Our last post discussed home comfort systems of the near future. While celebrating our nation’s Independence Day last week, I thought it would be interesting to follow up our future-focused previous post with a post focusing on home comfort systems of the past.
In the spirit of Independence Day, what better place to look for inspiration than Monticello, the estate of the author of the Declaration of Independence: Thomas Jefferson. It’s not exactly clear how intricate Monticello’s plumbing system was, because not much remained when the current organization took over running the estate.
There are a few documents that suggest that Monticello’s plumbing system included underground tunnels with running water that transported waste coming from the estate’s 5 privies — or what Jefferson called “air closets.” There may also have been a system of underground cars that carried waste away from the house. It turns out that there is not much physical evidence behind either of these guesses, except for mentions of them in letters written by Jefferson. But those could have been his intentions for the estate rather than what was actually in place.
Some historians believe that the privies were cleaned simply by removing a chamber pot from the cellar under the privies.
No matter which plumbing system was in place in the early 1800s, we know that most Americans probably had something closer to the chamber pot technique–not the cleanest method. Plumbing sure has come a long way since then.