It's easy to take for granted the efficiency and dependability of today's RV and residential toilets. They have high-pressure water jets that pulverize waste as it flushes. They have pushbuttons or foot pedals that activate a pulsating flush to provide nearly instantaneous full-bowl washdown.
The American Sanitary Plumbing Museum in Worcester, Mass., reminds visitors that it wasn't always this way.
The museum, dedicated to the history of plumbing, displays examples of sanitary plumbing systems through the years — models far different from today's residential-style toilets that use air pressure to force-flush porcelain toilets while conserving vast amounts of water.
A haven for old toilets
Some toilets at the museum date back to the 19th century, including a waterless toilet; a chain-pull toilet with a high wooden box tank; and "earth cabinets" that collected user's waste in lime instead of water.
On a toilet from 1891, a cherry-wood seat and lid attach to an ornate base. View a prison toilet from 1896, and another prison model from 1996. What a difference 100 years makes!
Of course, a museum of this sort must chronicle the evolution of an all-important luxury: toilet paper. Look for the toilet tissue brands from the 1800s, referred to then as "boudoir paper.
An Oak-rimmed and copper-lined enameled bath tub from the late 1800s is on display, as is one of the first dishwashers, called an electric sink, put out by the Kohler company in 1929. The museum also contains gas-fed water heaters from the 1920s and assorted plumbing tools.
Charles Manoog, a Worcester plumbing equipment distributor, founded the museum in 1979. His son Russ now runs the distribution business, which is down the street from the museum. Russ' wife, B.J., curates the plumbing museum.
So, why would you want to go see a bunch of toilets?
Well, you can't deny their utilitarian value. Just look at the popularity of the toilet maintenance seminar at FMCA international conventions. Dumping, flushing and cleaning the holding tank system are essential parts of the RV lifestyle.
When you visit the American Sanitary Plumbing Museum you're likely to develop an appreciation for modern toilets. Eliminating toilet odor, emptying holding tanks and selecting toilet tissue might not seem all that bad.
The museum is located at 39 Piedmont St. It is open on Tuesdays and Thursdays, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Closed in July and August (reopens in September). Free admission.
More information: www.wbur.org/special/strangemuseums/plumbing.asp