Did you know that the humble toilet had a revolutionary impact on the purification of water?

When a new invention comes onto the market that not only claims to revolutionize the way we live, but actually does so - people pounce on it. In the modern world, it could be the release of a new smartphone that causes a buying frenzy, but in the 19th century, it was the invention of the toilet.

People bought and used toilets so much that they overwhelmed the system and contaminated drinking water supplies. After English physician John Snow made the ground-breaking discovery in 1854 that Cholera wasn’t spread through the air but through water, the authorities finally learned one of the most important principles of public health: access to clean drinking water is crucial for preventing disease. Exactly how to provide clean water, however, remained a challenge.

Watch this clip from the 'Clean' episode to find out how an obsession with bacteria in water led an unknown water company employee in New Jersey to develop the bold strategy of chlorinating water.

When an invention – like the toilet – brings to light a new set of problems, it also brings with it the need for solutions. Thanks to the innovative thinking and problem solving of people like John Leal, modern society has been able to kill harmful bacteria on a vast scale and dramatically improve public health.

What ideas do you have for solving today’s problems?

Discover more from this episode in the How We Got To Now Gallery section...