Things You Never Knew You Needed: A Life-Saving Toilet

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The second item in our list of things you never knew you needed is the "toilet snorkel," a device that, in the case of a fire, would allow the user to access (fresh?) air from the sewer.

In 1981, citing a rash of recent hotel fires as his impetus for the invention, William O. Holmes patented a device that would attach to a toilet and allow trapped individuals to access fresh air.

Inserted through the water trap, the toilet snorkel permits hours of extra breathing time, preventing death by smoke inhalation. A charcoal filter attached to the snorkel ensures that the air is free of toxic impurities.

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Despite being an appropriate size for business travel, Holmes' device never caught on. A larger, less travel-friendly device patented in 1990 by Timothy Mulcahy also failed to capture the public's attention. This device, the "apparatus and method for breathing through the soil-stack during a high-rise fire", employed a billows that mounted to the toilet bowl rim.

I always knew that toilets were magical devices, and Joan DeJean's writings on the flush toilet convinced me even further, but I never knew that they could actually save a life!

For more on the toilet snorkel, see:

(Image credits: History Weird; Toilet Guru)

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Main, Homekeeping, Bathroom, History

Carolyn is a freelance writer and photographer, as well as a lover of all things colorful and quirky. She grew up in Texas and settled in Chicago by way of L.A., England and Paris. Currently, she is a professor at Illinois Institute of Technology.

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