Of the components that were part of plumbing, the development of a reliable and trouble-free water closet posed the most problems. A number had been invented by the middle of the nineteenth century, but all had shortcomings. The most common complaints were that they were troublesome to flush and were easily clogged. Perhaps the most offensive of the lot was the pan water closet. It was so named for the waste-collecting sheet metal pan that was designed to close off and seal the bottom of the closet bowl. When the unit was flushed the pan tipped aside, opening the drain at the same time water rinsed the bowl and the pan. The operating mechanism was intricate and because of its location easily became fouled; it also required regular attention. The most serious deficiency common to nearly all toilets of the time was the poor seal they provided between the bathroom and the soil pipe that carried away waste.
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Those who attempted to bring plumbing indoors faced technical as well as attitudinal challenges. Decisions on how wastewater was removed required as much concern as those made to ensure an adequate water supply. But equally vexing was the prevailing miasma theory of disease, which held that illnesses stemmed from "bad air" that was readily identifiable by its offensive odor. This led to a distrust of early indoor plumbing that tended to leak and a deadly fear of the sewer gas that accompanied the leaks. It is no wonder then that many individuals maintained a strong belief that elimination was best taken care of out of doors.

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