The Greatest Invention of All Time:
Indoor Plumbing
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 by Jon Burras
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        You might think that the greatest invention of all time has to be the wheel. With its many variations and purposes, the wheel has certainly contributed greatly to our evolution. But the wheel cannot even remotely compare to another mighty invention. Some might speculate that electricity, the light bulb, the computer chip or even gun powder holds the distinction of the greatest invention of all time.
        Unfortunately, not the case either. As important as these discoveries were, none of them can be seen as the greatest of inventions. That distinction belongs to the invention of "indoor plumbing."
        Move over Einstein, Edison, Tesla, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, your genius falls far short of the profound impact that indoor plumbing has had on our lives. As simple as it might sound, indoor plumbing is the greatest invention of all time and has saved more lives and transformed more societies than anything the aforementioned collectively could have created.
        From a mere comfort perspective, indoor plumbing has dramatically increased the pleasure of our bathroom experience. The majority of people in the industrialized world have been blessed with this pleasure while some rural areas and a great deal of the "third world" still do not have indoor plumbing. Nearly 2.4 billion people world-wide do not have access to basic sanitation.
        There is nothing romantic about having to scuttle out of the house on a freezing cold winter night, dodge any wild animal that may be lurking nearby, jump into the frozen outhouse, pull down your trousers, sink your tender buttocks onto an icy seat and "do your business." Hopefully you are not constipated or drunk because you could die out there due to exposure. Zip it all up, pull up the trousers and sprint back to the warmth of your house, careful to avoid wild animals and hopefully you did not lock yourself out.
        The history of indoor plumbing takes us back nearly twenty-eight hundred years where King Minos of Crete was said to have the first flushing toilet. Other cultures also enjoyed indoor plumbing like the Indus Valley Civilization, the Romans and the Persians in the Middle East.
       Not withstanding though, most early plumbing systems only served the elite class and the common person still had to "do his business" in the bush or use a pail in his home which had to be dumped out on a regular basis.
        It wasn't until the late nineteenth-century and the early part of the twentieth century where indoor plumbing became standard in most cities and in the vast majority of urban homes. Comfort aside, there is another profound reason why indoor plumbing is the greatest invention of all time. That reason is due to the fact that millions and millions of lives have been saved by the removal of human waste from homes and the infusion of clean drinking water.
        In many areas of the world, the mixing of human and animal waste has created unsanitary drinking water that is responsible for the death of millions each year. One of the most common causes of death in the third world is that of dehydration and diarrhea. An adult or a child might ingest a pathogen found in contaminated water (a parasite, virus or bacteria like cholera and dysentery), and the body will continue to purge the fluids until the heart stops beating.
        When you build an indoor plumbing system, you keep your human waste contained and transport it away from your home. This waste then travels to collection sites (still contained and not able to spread to ground water) where it is treated, disinfected and harmful bacteria and pathogens are removed. This water is often recycled to be used again or is circulated back into a larger body of water (like the ocean) where it is rendered harmless and will be diluted.
        In the past, city streets would be lined with human waste as citizens emptied their chamber pails right out their front windows. The germs in the waste would filter into the rivers and streams and airborne pathogens would rise out of the waste, line the city walls and find their way into people's homes.
        The amount of lives that have been saved by improved sanitation methods and indoor plumbing is staggering. When you remove the pathogens in your drinking water, destroy the airborne germs living in human waste and keep human waste separate from fresh drinking water, you eliminate the vast distillery of death germs. Sounds simple. Many areas of the world still have not been able to master this challenge and their populations will suffer the hardships of many deaths from infectious diseases.
        It is startling to realize the importance of indoor plumbing. Every city park and town square might want to tear down those statues of war heroes and politicians and replace them with a stature of the local plumber. "Hank the Plumber" ought to be immortalized in every town square as the savior of humanity. If it weren't for the skills of the local plumber you would still be rushing out to the outhouse on those frigid nights and your sons and daughters might be susceptible to a barrage of pathogenic diseases that originated from human waste mixing with drinking water.
        Indoor plumbing is by far the greatest invention of all time and your local plumber should receive a medal of honor, a statue in the park and a twelve inch pipe wrench.