POTTY HUMOR FROM THE WOLFSONIAN LIBRARY COLLECTION IN HONOR OF WORLD TOILET DAY

It was brought to my attention that today is World Toilet Day, a day duly designated by the United Nations in order to raise awareness for the 2.5 billion (roughly one-third) of the people on our planet without access to toilets and sustainable sanitation. Although this talk of toilets may seem silly or trivial, the lack of proper sanitation is a very serious matter. UN statistics reveal that diarrhea-related illnesses are the second most common cause of death in young children in the Third World, killing more than HIV/AIDS, malaria, and measles combined.

Without wishing to trivialize a serious world health issue, I could not let the day pass without highlighting some toilet related items from the Wolfsonian collection, since it was during the period covered by our museum that the flush toilet we all take for granted in the West came into regular use.

Outhouses were often the subject of American pictorial wit in the first half of the twentieth century, as attested to by this humorous vintage postcard.

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GIFT OF JEFFREY G. FISCHER AND MICHAEL SMITH

If civilians laughed at outhouse humor, latrines appear to have been the military’s equivalent for poking fun at army life. A World War I era postcard illustrated by Bernhardt Wall (1872-1956), depicts a soldier who was looking forward to shooting, unhappy at having instead to “dig sewers”—although this may have been a reference to trench warfare.

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GIFT OF FRANCIS XAVIER LUCA AND CLARA HELENA PALACIO-DE LUCA

A later (and far less ambiguous) complaint against latrines is expressed in another vintage postcard in which the enlisted man coming from cleaning the latrine looks up ironically at the Army recruiting broadside.

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GIFT OF LEONARD A. LAUDER

Of course, as the new flush toilets became increasingly common in civilian quarters, so too did new jokes abound as folks had to get accustomed to the new technology of the toilet!

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GIFT OF FRANCIS XAVIER LUCA AND CLARA HELENA PALACIO LUCA

The advent of indoor plumbing, water closets, urinals, and flush toilets was no laughing matter. Such items were given very serious treatment in a variety of manufacturers’ catalogs, instructional brochures, and advertisements designed to sell a whole range of industrial, no frills, public toilets, and beautiful and hygienic private bathroom designs.

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PROMISED GIFT OF MITCHELL WOLFSON, JR.

Far from being embarrassed by toilet talk in the 1930s, the public attending Chicago’s Century of Progress International Exposition would have been exposed to novelty works celebrating the evolution from chamber pots and outhouses to flushing toilets.

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Fair concessionaires from the “Windy City” were not even shy about selling novelty toilet paper with a printed description of the fair that came with a mailing envelope to allow the buyers to drop their friends and relatives a line or two on dual-purpose paper!

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Of course, the best “bathroom” humor in the museum library collection dates from the period of the Second World War, when Americans were called upon to do their patriotic duty by wiping out Axis leaders.

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GIFT OF JEFFREY G. FISCHER AND MICHAEL SMITH

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GIFTS OF FRANCIS XAVIER LUCA AND CLARA HELENA PALACIO LUCA

~ by "The Chief" on November 19, 2013.

2 Responses to “POTTY HUMOR FROM THE WOLFSONIAN LIBRARY COLLECTION IN HONOR OF WORLD TOILET DAY”

  1. Good luck with your toallet to flush the paper and do not get in problems in south america. Nice Blog paper com. Thanks.

  2. What an interesting collection of pictures! You know that “History of Dance” video that was all the rage on YouTube a while back? You’ve pulled off somewhat of a “History of Toilets” here.🙂

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