Modern toilet design began in 1596, when Sir John Harington invented a device for Queen Elizabeth (his Godmother) that released wastes into cesspools. Harington invented two elements of the modern toilet: a valve at the bottom of the water tank, and a wash-down system.
In 1596, Harington wrote a book called A New Discourse upon a Stale Subject: The Metamorphosis of Ajax about his invention. He published it under the pseudonym of Misacmos. The book made political allusions to the Earl of Leicester that angered the Queen. The book was a coded attack on the stercus or excrement that was poisoning society with torture and state-sponsored “libels” against his relatives Thomas Markham and Ralph Sheldon. After the publication of this work he was again banished from the court. The Queen’s mixed feelings for him may have been the only thing that saved Harington from being tried at Star Chamber. The work itself enjoyed considerable popularity on its publication in 1596.
The forerunner to the modern flush toilet had a flush valve to let water out of the tank, and a wash-down design to empty the bowl. The term ‘John’, used particularly in the USA, is generally accepted as a direct reference to its inventor.
- Kinghorn, Jonathan (1986), “A Privvie in Perfection: Sir John Harrington’s Water Closet”, Bath History, 1: 173–188. ISBN 0-86299-294-X. Kinghorn supervised a modern reconstruction in 1981, based on the illustrated description by Harington’s assistant Thomas Coombe in the New Discourse.