History of the Bidet

first bidet in historyEver wanted to know the history of how the modern bidet came to be? From primitive buckets to Napoleon’s silver bidet, here’s everything you need to know about the history of the bidet.

If you’ve spent any amount of time traveling the world, then you’ve no doubt come across a few bidets in your lifetime. They come in all shapes and sizes and in some places they completely take the place of toilet paper. One of the strangest things for many tourists to get used to are the different toilet habits practiced in different countries.

Depending on where you are, you may come into contact with quite a few different styles of bidets. At their most primitive, they are small containers of water with a special pouring cup. At their most advanced, they are fully robotic toilet seat attachments with self-cleaning anti-microbial technology and laser-sharp aim.

Some love them, some hate them. Regardless of your stance, however, wouldn’t you be interested to know where they came from and who was the first to use them?

Well, today we’re going to take a dive into the history of this interesting toilet technology and do our best to answer some of these pressing questions.

A Brief History of the Bidet

It’s almost impossible to pinpoint the first-ever use of a bidet. After all, it doesn’t take a lot of ingenuity to wash yourself with water after you use the toilet. However, the bidet itself isn’t just a means of cleaning yourself with water, but rather an artistic or technologically-oriented design meant to make the user feel clean and comfortable about what they were doing.

Who Had Them First?

ancient bidet

The word “bidet” has a very European ring to it doesn’t it? Among toiletologists, the debate is that either the Italians or the French created the first widely-used fancy bidet system. According to the World Toilet Organization (yes there is such a thing), the term was first coined in 1710 in a French publication, so historians tend to lean more towards the French side.

Most give credit to the French furniture maker Christopher Des Rosiers for creating one of the world’s first bidets. Once they came into style they weren’t going out. Bidet crafting became an ornate art form, and it turned the act of using the bathroom into a stylish and classy experience.

After handling their business, the wealthy French aristocrats could clean themselves in a porcelain bowl with beautiful inlay and painting work laid into an ornate mahogany chair. This was one of the first times in recorded history that toilets were designed to be nice. Up until then, even the wealthiest kings and queens of the world still had to use a traditional stone or wood-carved latrine and were lucky if they had some extra water for plumbing purposes.

“Bidet” is actually the French word for “pony.” Likely this term was created as a euphemism to describe the way that one would straddle the fancy bowl to clean themselves.

The affluent members of French society weren’t “going to wash their bums in a bowl,” they were instead going to “visit Le Bidet.” Sounds a lot nicer doesn’t it?

Napoleon’s Bidet

One of the most well-known bidets in recent history was Napoleon Bonaparte’s silver bidet which he took with him in all of his travels. The silver acted as a natural anti-microbial and kept the piece of furniture clean and sanitary no matter where he was. It was so important to him that he even passed it down to his son in his last will and testament.

The Spread of Bidets Across the World

Despite their aristocratic beginnings in the French courts, bidets have since spread all across the world. In many foreign countries, however, they aren’t known by the name “bidet” which means that these countries may very well have had their own versions long before the French. Unfortunately, there isn’t any recorded evidence to back this up, but it is a solid theory.

ancient bidets

The more prevalent theory is that bidets were traded around the world. At one point in history, France was one of the most well-known trading countries in the world. People as far away as China were eager to get their hands on the latest French styles, perfumes, and furniture. In French courts, diplomats from Asian and Indian countries would visit, and take note of these fancy bidets. It’s likely that they came home and hired their own craftsmen to build their own.

One interesting thing to note is the different styles of bidets. Some are simple handheld spray guns, others shoot a singular stream of water, and some feature multiple spouts. If you’re willing to shell out some serious money, then you can even get a fully-automated bidet with robotic cleaning spouts, anti-microbial sanitizing technology and motion-sensing lids.

Since the first French artisanal bowls, bidets have certainly come a long way. There are bidets of all types and sizes that range from affordable to high-end. All of this goes to show that once you come up with a good piece of technology, there’s no limits to how far you can take it. The first bidet was engineered by a humble French furniture craftsman. Now, they’re engineered and built all over the world.

Sources:
1. https://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/30/technology/personaltech/electronic-bidet-toilet-seat-is-the-luxury-you-wont-want-to-live-without.html
2. https://web.archive.org/web/20091220192053/http://www.worldtoilet.org/resources.asp?no=6
3. https://www.napoleon.org/en/history-of-the-two-empires/articles/napoleons-last-will-and-testament/

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