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Wall Tank flush toilet (C) D FriedmanAntique & Historic Toilets
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Antique & historic toilets:

This article describes early flush toilets such as the high-cistern flush toilet shown in our page top photo: this toilet is installed in the Samuel Morse home in Poughkeepsie, New York.



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Early & Antique Flush Toilets: high wall-mounted cisterns or flush tanks

Elastic water closet Thomas Crapper (C) DJFChamber pots (dating from Roman times and Garderobes (5th to 15th century toilets that simply dumped waste to the outdoors) and privies and outhouses, toilet designs that date to the 1500s or earlier are omitted from this review of modern toilets.

See OUTHOUSES & LATRINES for examples of privies and outhouses, toilet designs that date to the 1500s or earlier

By the 1880's, in London Thomas Crapper & Co's sanitary specialties included the elastic valve water closet illustrated at left, and the toilet cistern "water waste preventer" siphon toilet flush assembly design illustrated in the article above. The elastic valve closet advertisement at left (photo from a bathroom wallpaper reproduction) does not show the cistern or water reservoir tank.

By 1890 the elastic valve closet had been sophisticated and simplified in appearance to appear with a toilet tank or cistern mounted still higher on the building wall as we illustrate in our historic photograph (below left).

Mounting the cistern high on the wall gave additional water pressure that helped flush the toilet bowl clean. Subsequent toilet bowl designs have included many experiments & methods to improve toilet bowl cleaning, removal of solid waste without clogging, and to reduce "marking" - fecal stains on the toilet bowl surface that otherwise require a toilet brush and frequent cleaning.

Siphon valve toilet Crapper (C) DFSiphon flush valve toilet: an alternative to the tank ball and flapper valve toilet flush mechanism used in the U.K. and in toilets in some other locales, toilet siphon flush valves are operated by a button that forces water up from the reservoir cistern (toilet tank) into the siphon that in turn sends water into the toilet bowl to complete the flush.

Siphon flush valve controls on toilets eliminate the problem of running toilets caused by leakage at the tank ball or flapper valve.

As you can see from our photo of an early toilet advertisement by Thomas Crapper & Cos. (from a wallpaper reproduction), the siphon flush valve is not a new idea, and has long been sold as a method of preventing water wastage and running toilets.

Wall Tank flush toilet (C) D FriedmanDepending on where you live, sources also refer to a toilet as a water closet, WC, or loo. The list of synonyms for toilets is long and also includes crapper, can, head (see MARINE TOILETS where we discuss special problems confronting the operation of toilets on boats, ships and submarines).

Thomas Crapper & Co. (London) called their scary-looking toilet contraption an "Elastic Valve Closet".

Early flush toilets like the toilet shown in our photo (left, Locust Grove, - Samuel Morse Estate, Poughkeepsie, NY) and like this 1890 model used a high wall-mounted reservoir tank, typically wooden, to provide adequate pressure and flow rate to clean and empty the toilet bowl.

The flush valve for the wooden wall-mounted reservoir tank for this toilet was operated by pulling a chain that operated the mechanism.

Pulling the chain means flushing the toilet.

Below we illustrate a more contemporary top-front-flush high-mounted cistern type toilet. This toilet is installed in the restroom of the Brew Moon cafe in Amberley, on highway 1 between Christchurch and Akaroa, New Zealand. The Brew Moon is a micro-brewery producing their own excellent beers whose sampling will for at least some customers, makes working toilets an important convenience.

High cistern front flush toilet installed in Amberley New Zealand (C) Daniel Friedma - courtesy of the Brew Moon Cafe. Flush button on the upper front of the cistern on a toilet at Brew Moon, Amberley NZ (C) Daniel Friedman

At above right you can see the operation of the flush control mounted on the upper front center of the Brew Moon toilet's cistern. Below we illustrate the cistern fill valve in operation and the flush control valve components of this toilet. The toilet includes a separate overflow drain from the top of the cistern (blue arrow, below right).

Flush button on the upper front of the cistern on a toilet at Brew Moon, Amberley NZ (C) Daniel Friedman Flush button on the upper front of the cistern on a toilet at Brew Moon, Amberley NZ (C) Daniel Friedman

More about the operation of drains and vents on toilets of this type can be read at LOW COST TOILETS

Reader Question: Desperately Seeking Norris Toilet Parts

Low profile toilet, possibly Norris Industries Brand (C) D Friedman &  L K We have two of these, installed in 1983. A photo of our Mexican Sand (or Moroccan Sand) one is attached as well as a picture of the black one from your web page. I have been assuming that these are Kohlers, but Kohler says no. There is no K number in the ceramic of the tank.

The only identifiers are the word Norris on one of the tank lids and the number 45. The manufacturing date, however, is quite clear.

The hardware store invoice identifies them only as 503, with no manufacturer.

Since the phrase "Or as our mom did in Boca Raton" was used in the description of the black toilet, I believe somebody at your end has had a distressingly close encounter with this model.

Ours flush very well, but require constant rebuilding of the flush mechanism to fill and/or stop filling reliably.

The fact that I have been using Kohler parts all along might account for these constant problems. Thank you, - L.K. 5/9/12

Reply: A Quick History of Norris Industries & Norris Toilets

The black toilet shown in our photo was installed in a New York home - and was produced by Kohler industries. It does not appear to be the same brand as yours, since the tank on the black toilet in our earlier photo is rectangular, not curved such as the toilet tank shown in your photo (above).

But your message indicates that you saw "Norris" stamped inside one of the toilet lids. Almost certainly that indicates that your toilets were made by Norris Industries.

Norris Toilets, as indicated by the brand you found in the toilet tank lid, were a 5.0 gallon flush toilet (or other volume), builder-grade, low profile toilet design installed often in the 1970's and as late as 1991. Often you can also see the toilet brand on the bowl or base, behind the toilet seat hinge. Watch for cracks in the porcelain in these units. Also see Norris Thermador (NT) models. Norris toilets may be marked as N, NI, NT, Norris, Norris Industries, or Norris Thermador.

The Norris Toilet Industries factory was located in City of Industry, California where production under the Norris label stopped when the company was bought by Mansfield Industries in 1991. Mansfield Plumbing Products has been in business since 1929 and continues to operate (as a subsidiary of CORONA, a Columbian multinational) in Big Prairie Ohio with a second plant in Henderson Texas. You might be able to obtain Norris-compatible parts from

Mansfield Plumbing Products LLC 150 East First Street, Perrysville, OH, 44864 Phone: 1-877-850-3060 Fax: 1-800-984-7802 Website: http://www.mansfieldplumbing.com

or go right to their parts supply contact information at

Vitreous China, Plastic Fittings and Parts. Phone: 1-877-850-3060 Fax: 1-419-938-6234

Other toilet part sources: we used to drive around in a pickup truck on "clean-up day" in our town, watching for people who were tossing out old toilets - collecting toilet lids for our renovation customers, as that's the part most often broken on porcelain toilets. There are quite a few online vendors of toilet tank lids or other parts, including vendors selling color-matched parts if your toilet is other than a white model. Just ask for a brochure from the replacement toilet parts vendor and that will get you quite close to the original unit that you have.

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Continue reading at CONTEMPORARY TOILET DESIGNS or select a topic from closely-related articles below, or see our complete INDEX to RELATED ARTICLES below.

Or see LOW COST TOILETS for a description of the McSkimming Toilet

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ANTIQUE FLUSH TOILETS at InspectApedia.com - online encyclopedia of building & environmental inspection, testing, diagnosis, repair, & problem prevention advice.

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