Who is this so-called guru?
I'm Bob Cromwell.
referred to me as
"the Indiana Jones (and Ansel Adams) of latrines."
I'm not a plumber, just a sometimes-traveler with a camera and curiousity.
What I do is consulting, writing, and teaching on
The toilet pictures were just a prank, originally just one page
in the collection of
I split the toilet picture collection off onto its own site in 2010.
A guru? Really?
It's purely a self-appointed title!
There is no formal sanctioning body.
But why not?
Guru or गुरु
is a Sanskrit term for a "teacher, guide, expert, or master"
in a specific field.
It means the one who dispels the darkness
The syllable gu means darkness, the syllable ru,
he who dispels them.
Because of the power to dispel darkness, the guru is thus named.
Advayataraka Upanishad, Verse 16
The term has been used in the earliest Vedic texts of Hinduism,
and the guru and the gurukul,
a school run by a guru, were an established tradition
by the 1st millennium BCE.
The same tradition appears in Jainism, Sikhism, and Vajrayāna Buddhism.
Being a guru is not a trivial thing.
I'll try my best to dispel the darkness
as I guide you through the world of toilets and other plumbing.
But I won't be aiming for the
Vajrayāna Buddhist level of guru:
The guru is the Buddha, the guru is the Dhamma, and the guru is the Sangha.
The guru is the glorious Vajradhara, in this life only the guru
is the means [to awakening].
Therefore, someone wishing to attain the state of Buddhahood
should please the guru.
— Guhyasanaya Sadhanamala 28, from the 12th century
Am I obsessed with toilets?
I'm just willing to admit that I find the topic somewhat
I've taken lots of other
When you travel off the beaten path,
it doesn't take long until the question comes up.
"Well, you know, how did you, well, when you had to,
well, uh, what was it like?"
So here are pictures I have taken of toilets I have
At the 2000-year-old public latrine in
Ephesus in Asia Minor.
So why a site just on toilets?
I have Google AdSense ads on this and my main site,
Google constantly re-reads the pages containing AdSense ads,
attempting to automatically figure out what they're about
and serve up relevant ads.
I originally had everything on one site.
Google concluded that most of that site was about plumbing,
because that was the single topic most often leading to searches
that led people to some page on the site.
So, almost all the pages got plumbing-oriented ads.
People interested in
computer operating systems
aren't interested in portable outhouses or
cleaning solutions or the other things appearing in plumbing-related ads.
But a site about toilets, I must be obsessed, right?
I don't see it that way, I'm just the guy with a silly site that
spun off a collection of travel pictures.
I regularly get messages from people saying
"I have spent the last four hours reading about toilets on your web site,
and I would like to know why you are so obsessed."
You just spent how long reading about toilets?
And you think I am fixated on the topic?
Has the Press Ever Contacted Me?
Oh yes, several times.
Both print and radio.
Several newspapers and some book publishers.
BBC 5, Radio Slovenia, the Australian Broadcasting Company.
How Did This Get Started?
In the mid 1990s I had a single page on a Purdue University server.
The Internet Archive Wayback Machine lets you see
what that looked like as far back as January 17, 1999.
My cromwell-intl.com domain appeared in September, 2001,
although the Wayback Machine didn't notice its one
Toilets of the World page until
January 17, 2002.
Some time soon after that I split it into categories,
and the collection has grown ever since.
In December, 2010 I registered the
domain and moved the pages to a dedicated server.
What is it like to be a toilet guru?
In 2014 I did some
consulting for Merrill Lynch at their large facility
outside Trenton, New Jersey.
I had most of one afternoon free, and in the year leading
up to that I had received messages from several people
telling me that I should track down
Adolf Hitler's toilet
which was in an auto repair shop in a small town near Trenton.
The German state yacht was scrapped in New Jersey after World War II.
It was partially disassembled and various portholes,
teak decking, and internal fixtures including at least
one toilet and sink were sold to area residents.
The toilet and sink were installed in a local garage.
It was interesting to see, not that it was very unusual on its own but
it certainly was an unexpected place to find such a connection to history.
But the most interesting thing was talking to the guy who came to own
Hitler's toilet by accident.
He had simply purchased a garage when its owner was retiring,
and the relic came with the building.
He likes working on cars, that's what he does and he's good at it.
People from all around the world come to his garage to see
the toilet, and that mostly just amuses him.
There are surplus parts from Hitler's yacht all around
the small town — flagpoles, brass railings, and so on.
So why do people come from Japan, Europe,
Australia, and elsewhere just to see the toilet?
A U.K. television show flew him and the toilet and sink to
Free airfare, free shipping for the fixtures, and a week
in a hotel in London.
It wasn't until then that he realized that it had never been
properly bolted down, it was simply cemented to the floor.
The television show hosts became fixated on this,
asking why he hadn't properly bolted it down.
It was that way when he bought the garage, and it worked,
so there was no reason to pay any further attention to it.
Then they demanded an explanation for why, if it was working,
had he removed it and eventually needed to replace it with
a modern fixture.
This question was from the very people who had invited him
and his wife on a free week in London if he unfastened it
and brought it along.
This was all very familiar to me.
I have a silly web site on which I make a little ad revenue.
Someone else comes along and spends hours looking at the
pictures and reading the text.
Maybe they're a reporter for the BBC or a major newspaper
in the U.S. or U.K., and they decide this is an appropriate
topic for a detailed article.
They then immediately demand that I explain
why I am obsessed with the topics.
Are There Any Other Benefits?
You receive essays that people hope can be published here,
giving them a by-line.
As though a by-line on toilet-guru.com is desirable.
Essays that discuss "men who carry their genitals with them,
who bring patriarchy when they step into the toilet."
And so on.
Can the Toilet Guru recommend any toilet meditation techniques?
No, not especially.
The important thing is to use whatever works for you.
I was described by Yahoo as:
We've all been there.
Nature calls and the only answer is a toilet with more
levers, switches, and buttons than
Wile E. Coyote's latest invention.
What to do?
If you're Bob Cromwell, the answer is obvious:
You take a picture.
Dedicated to the man and the latrines he's dared to
use, Toilets of the World features photos and captions
from Bob's many encounters with the cryptic,
the seatless, and the downright weird.
During his travels through Russia, East Asia,
and South America,
Bob never met a commode he didn't want to remember.
From an Ottoman-era throne of a more modest variety
to a hole-in-the-ground kind enough to offer tips
on feet placement, you're bound to gain a quick
appreciation for Bob,
the Indiana Jones (and Ansel Adams) of latrines.
NASA's Space Poop Challenge