Unusual and interesting toilets from all around the world.

Cremating Excreta in a Grocery Store Basement

Incinerating Sewage

Should I connect my upstairs toilet to a chimney leading down to an incinerator in the basement?

Um, no. Especially not if this is in your grocery store.

Believe it or not, some people have wondered if that might not be a useful design. Luckily, some sanitation experts were able to set them straight. Well, it didn't really require experts, just a little common sense. Let's see what crazy basement sewage incineration scheme almost happened.

The American Architect and Building News is a cornucopia of information on the state of the art in plumbing and other construction technologies of the late 19th century.

Cover of 'The American Architect and Building News', volume Xii, July-December 1882.

In Volume XIII, no. 380, of April 7, 1883, on page 165, they printed a letter from one W. Yearnshaw of Wyanet, Illinois. His letter was dated March 28, just one week before. They clearly appreciated the urgency of the query from this forerunner of Wile E. Coyote.

He was planning to build a structure housing a grocery store on the ground floor with dwelling rooms above that on the second floor.

His dilemma arose from the fact that he only owned a very small lot of land and his building would completely fill it. There was no commercial water supply or sewage system, as Wyanet was probably quite small at the time. In 2010 it had only 991 inhabitants. It's a small town in a lightly populated area of northwestern Illinois

As for his planned solution, well, just read his letter.

The citizens of Wyanet should be thankful for the helpful editors of The American Architect. You can find the original here.


WYANET, ILLINOIS, March 28, 1883


    Gents, — Being a reader of your monthly Architect, I take the liberty of asking a little information on a question of interest to me and perhaps to others. I have a small business lot about thirty-eight feet square on which I wish to build a grocery store with basement, and have convenient dwelling-rooms above on second floor. What bothers me is to know how to have a convenient and practical-working privy from this second floor on inside of building, as the building will cover the whole of the lot: we have no water-works here and very little descent of ground in any direction. Could get 5 feet by going about 80 rods,— I expect to use a drain. My idea was to build a good sized chimney from basement in connection with privy and arrange so as to dispose of soil by cremation and run the urine into drain. Do you know of this ever being done in this way and can it be made practical? If you think not, what is the most practical plan in use to obtain the results I wish?

     If you should answer through the Architect, please publish in the monthly issue, and oblige,      Yours truly,


     [SOMETHING depends on the amount of money our correspondent wishes to spend. With a tank and force-pump, soil-pipe, drain, and cess-pool at a sufficient distance from the building, a good water-closet would be the most satisfactory apparatus. If this is impracticable, the common French method of building a tight vault in the cellar, or preferably outside of it, with a shaft extending vertically downward from the second story, might be carried out with comparatively little offense, by making the vault or shaft nearly or quite air-tight, and carrying up from the former a ventilating pipe, six or eight inches in diameter, well above the roof. Then there will always be a flow of air downward through the seat, which will keep the air of the closet in motion. If dry earth could be scattered over the contents of the vault each day, and the whole frequently cleaned out and disinfected with powdered copperas, the result would be still better. A still cheaper, but more troublesome appliance would be a portable earth-closet, such as any manufacturer would furnish. The cremation idea we can hardly approve. —EDS. AMERICAN ARCHITECT.]

Cremating excreta in the basement, the toilet is connected to the chimney leading to the incinerator.