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A Brief History of The Male Urinal

From Duchamp to present times

Legend has it that the earliest need for a sanitation system was recognised when a Roman centurion, returning home from duty, was "caught short" on the approach to a town. Unable to hold on any longer, he relieved himself in a culvert which, unknown to him, supplied fresh water to the town.

His actions were reported and, as a result, he was prosecuted, found guilty and sentenced to castration. According to the legend, a sanitation system was devised and the centurion spent the remainder of his life in service as a eunuch.

Male toilet sign
Original urinal
The interactive
The pop art version
The waterless version
The overtly public
The pissoir

In 1917, Marcel Duchamp displayed what was probably the first public male urinal as a museum exhibit devoted to Dadaism (he called it "Fountain"). For some reason, he signed the exhibit with the name of "R. Mutt" (1).

No-one seemed to notice that the urinal was displayed incorrectly with the drainage holes (which should lie horizontally at the bottom of the urinal) lying vertically, so that the signature (which was upside-down on top of the vertical component) could be easily read.

Over the years, most public urinals have been variations on the theme of Duchamp's "Fountain" but have been produced with differing degrees of quality and taste.

"Spicing up" the urinal

Some attempts at producing male urinals were more appealing than others. Shown here are examples of the good (2), the bad (3) and the downright ugly (4) ....

In several countries, "interactive" urinals (5) have been produced in which the direction of the urinary stream can be used to control objects on a video screen which, at the same time, broadcasts clear warnings about the dangers of drinking and driving. In Belgium, the police disapproved of reinforcing the drink-don't-drive message in this manner and demanded that these urinals were removed from use.

Attempts to "spice up" the appearance of the urinal have resulted in the exotic (6), the arty (7) and toilets where the decorative graphics are used to embellish the room rather than the urinal itself (8).

The problem of odour

In an attempt to solve the age-old problem of odour, "waterless" (9) and biological urinals have been developed, and are now used in many countries.

Outdoor urinals

Outdoor urinals have become increasingly popular, especially at social and sporting events. Abroad, these urinals (10) are reminiscent of the older, street-side urinals in cities such as Paris (see below). They range from the simple but elegant (11) to the more functional. At sporting events, portable urinals are now often seen (12) although most are housed in covered trailers.

The old-fashioned pissoir (or vespasienne), once a common site in Paris, is no longer seen anywhere in France, but some notable examples still exist in other countries e.g. Holland (13).

Urinals for women?

Finally, some manufacturers now produce modified urinals for women as well. There is, however, still no reliable means of ensuring that everyone uses a urinal in the recommended manner (14).

Urinal 01

Urinal 02
The exotic
The gasp version
The outside toilets

The football toilet
The urinal joke

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biological    Duchamp    pissoir    Roman    sanitation    urinal    vespasienne    waterless