8th March 1814

Scottish flushing toilet pioneer dies

Edinburgh-born Alexander Cumming didn’t invent the flushing toilet, but did improve it when he devised the s-bend. A simple kinked piece of pipe, the s-bend traps water in the bottom of the bowl and, in doing so, blocks the passage of foul smells from the sewer into the home.

This might seem a strange direction for a man who trained as a watch and clock maker, and pioneered several technologies, including ways to measure barometric pressure changes throughout the day. But, it’s for his work in sanitation that we must thank him.

S-bends and flushes

As well as the s-bend, he devised a way to link the pulling of a chain with both flushing a tank of water through the toilet bowl and the automatic refilling of the tank. It seems like common sense – and is commonplace – today but, in the 1770s, it was an innovation.

His death was announced in the Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser of 11 March 1814: “March 8, in his 82d year, Alex. Cumming, Esq. F.R.S. Ed of Pentonville; eminent for his genius and knowledge in the mechanical sciences.”



Other events that occured in March

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