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Doctor Curmudgeon® I Am Thankful for Indoor Plumbing

By Diane Batshaw Eisman, M.D. FAAP Doctor Eisman is in Family Practice in Aventura, Florida with her partner, Dr. Eugene Eisman, an internist/cardiologist

Those wonderful days of yesteryear were not always so wonderful.

Once upon a time people did not have indoor toilets.

They trekked outside of their homes to an outhouse.

An outhouse was a small wooden structure set away from the dwelling with doors and uncomfortable seats. A pit was dug under the hole in the seat for wastes to collect.

Outhouses had to be moveable so that when the pit was filled the structure could be moved elsewhere.

Sometimes there was a bucket underneath the hole where you sat. Then, you could just empty it into a compost heap.

I can only imagine a cold winter day. You are in a comfy bed, covered by a beautiful, fluffy quilt; a lovely fireplace aglow in your bedroom.

Suddenly, it happens! You have to “go.”

You try to keep the urge out of your thoughts….but impossible.

You push your feet into your warmest shoes.

Grab your heavy coat.

Go out the door and find yourself immediately assaulted by harsh, biting winds.

You carefully wend your way to the outhouse, cautiously moving your feet over ice, and careful not to sink into the snow.

You finally reach your destination.

You open the door.

Holding your nose, you place yourself on the cold seat.

When you have finished, you grab a corn cob from the tray on the little shelf and wipe away.


So, when did we finally start getting indoor plumbing? It actually began with the completion of the Croton Aqueduct in New York City.

“The Croton Aqueduct was a large and complex water distribution system constructed for New York City between 1837 and 1842.”.–Wikipedia

The aqueduct enabled fire hydrants and indoor toilets to get the pressurized water they required.

Then the city in its great wisdom, allowed buildings to connect with public storm sewers.

And by the 1850s…at last!!! Indoor plumbing began to be installed in homes.

Universal, Indoor toilets did not happen immediately after that, because only the wealthy could afford them.

Think about 1920: Only one percent of the houses in the United States had the joy of indoor plumbing. It took President Herbert Hoover to appoint Dr. Roy Hunter to the plumbing division. Dr. Hunter conducted studies and developed a plumbing code which has not changed much over the years.

But it was the White House that really had the first indoor plumbing in the United States. President Andrew Jackson, installed iron pipes in the ground floor back in 1833. No indoor toilets through the whole building, but at least you could avoid that stinky, miserable outdoor privy. Just go down some stairs in your comfy robe and slippers.

I imagine that somewhere, a few derelict old outhouses exist, but I have no plans to contact my travel agent for a visit.

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