View Full Version : Forward facing trap

12-21-2007, 09:51 AM
I have a question for you vintage toilet experts. I happened upon a vintage toilet still in use a while back with the forward-facing trapway. It had a siphon jet and large rim jets at the back of the bowl, rather than the front, and a small waterspot much like today's low-flow designs. I was struck by how logical this design seemed from a flow standpoint. It's a much shorter distance from the tank to the jets lined up with the opening of the trapway than on today's nearly universal reverse-trap designs. Could someone tell me what advantages the reverse-trap has that caused the forward-facing version to be abandoned years ago?

12-21-2007, 06:03 PM
When I was in college, and that was over 30 years ago, there was a large series of books in the library authored by a group of sanitary engineers. I cannot tell you what that series was, but it dated from the early 1900’s right up into the 1970’s. The professionals in this group may know what I am referring to. I do recall reading in one of these books that the “washdown bowl” such as you describe was deemed unsanitary and no longer made, around 1968 or 9. It was because of the small water spot and the large area of porcelain not covered by water, particular the area in front of the bowl that slopes down to the water thus making the bowl more susceptible to staining. I do recall seeing washdown toilets in hardware stores (Gerber, Sears (which were made by Universal Rundle), and in plumbing shop display windows (Eljer)), but they suddenly disappeared around the late 1960’s.

The reverse trap style was also considered more attractive. I recall the Sears catalogue in the 1960’s describing their economy model reverse trap toilet as “neater in appearance than ordinary washdown toilets with trap in bulge at front”. My response to that is that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and I do not consider these old treasures to be ugly or ordinary. But that’s me.

It is ironic that many of today’s bowls have small water spots and large areas of dry surface and they are not deemed unsanitary because they are now required by the powers that be, and for good reasons.

I have four toilets between two residences. Three of the four are of the style that you describe. The fourth is only 2 years old, and for a 1.6, an excellent performer (though it does stain more than my old washdown bowls do).

My personal preference is the older style because for me, they work the best and are trouble free. I am also fond of antiques, and have a small collection of them that I bought in salvage shops and totally cleaned up and rebuilt.

Below are some photos of some “action shots” as performed by my 1936 “Standard” MODERNUS in my home and by my oldest, a 1926 “Standard” TIFFIN in my cabin’s outside half bath.

In both bowls, you can see the smaller water spot and the sloping surface of dry porcelain.

The newer MODERNUS has the jet at the back of the bowl and a thorough rinse from the rim jets. The flush is fast and complete, every time. This bowl was redesigned later on and the newer design is a bit deeper with a larger water area. But I like the older design better. The only problem with the MODERNUS is that it’s easy to stub your toe on its base at the front, and it hurts!!

Lastly, here are some shots of the older TIFFIN. This one has a large jet or “spout” built into the rim and none at the bottom of the bowl. The bowl also refills from this “spout”. This bowl later evolved into the “Standard” EJECTO. I have one made in 1929. It’s based on the design of the older TIFFIN (and still has “TIFFIN” stamped into the back of the bowl), but the spout is gone and replaced with a jet at the bottom of the bowl.

I hope I’ve helped to answer your question.


ACTION SHOTS: 1936 "Standard" MODERNUS followed by 1926 "Standard" TIFFIN

12-21-2007, 07:01 PM
If a toilet can't flush good with 5 gallons of water there is something very wrong!

I'd replace it with something that flushes fantasic with 1/4 of that amount of water! That belongs in a museum exhibit!

12-21-2007, 07:54 PM
The first time a washdown toilet plugs up and you try to get a closet auger through it, you will appreciate the reverse trap versions. The washdown has at least on "square" corner at the top of the trap and it will refuse the closet auger every time.

12-22-2007, 03:12 AM
To hj,

That is valuable information. Fortunately, I've never had my washdown toilets plug up, and nobody else is around to put foreign objects down them, so hopefully I'll never need to auger any of them.

To Redwood,

"That belongs in a museum exhibit!"

You're right on that one, and it is: my own. And for some reason both extremes work for me, the 7-gallon gushers, and the 1.6 Drake. Everything in between has been marginal to unaccceptable in performance.

Now to flush this day down the toilet: I'm off to the factory for my 12-hour shift!


12-22-2007, 04:30 PM
Thanks much for the history and all the details and pictures. It seems to me that first Toto and now others have put some effort into designing a direct-fed jet that provides a higher pressure at the input to the trapway. But many of the forward-facing trap toilets had a direct-fed jet with a shorter distance and fewer turns than any of today's reverse-trap models. Further, the waterspots in the pictures are actually larger than that in some modern low-flow designs. I don't know if the square turn in the trapway could be easily corrected or if there is room for the extra trapway hump that Toto and others now use, but it looks like if water conservation had been a concern at the time these old thrones were being designed, they would have been good candidates.

12-22-2007, 05:40 PM
Hello, SamC,

I greatly appreciate your response to my history and to the photos of my antique toilets in action.

What I also like about these old toilets is that the bowls have extra height, not quite that of an ADA model, but enough to notice a difference especially for a tall guy like me.

The toilets in the photos are 14 inches rough. The only reason why I was able to get one of these in the half bath at home was because of a mistake (which turned out to be a blessing in disguise). The floor flange was 13.5 inches out rather than 12. The flange on the second floor is 12 inches, so a free standing toilet would only work in that spot.

A toilet on an upper floor (and over one's dining area as mine is) must not be one prone to clogging and overflowing. As I said in my post above, each free standing toilet in that second floor bathroom was marginal or unaccepable UNTIL I installed my 1.6 gallon Toto Drake.

My Toto Drake, the only toilet of my 4 with the reverse trap, with its direct and powerful jet, and its double siphon has never plugged. My 30 year old Toilaflex plunger sits in a closet enjoying its retirement. I have as much trust in my Drake as I do my antique washdown toilets. It can safely be said that the Drake is here to stay!

The Drake and my LG front loader washer have dropped my water and sewer usage to below minimum, so the extra water used by the antique MODERNUS toilet is negligible.

In my summer home, I have a gravity fed water system with intakes in a brook over 300 feet up the hill. The brook never dries up and the water is free, so the 7 gallon antique washdown toilets are what will be used there.

Good observation about the size of the water spot in the antiques! They are smaller than the older reverse traps, but larger than some of the 1.6's. I agree too that it would be great if there were some way to smooth out that square turn that hj refers to, and add a double siphon like the Toto uses.

Well, it's been a long day with another one coming up tomorrow, so the curator of The Antique China Hutch will sign off!


12-23-2007, 03:59 PM
I agree with HJ - those front traps will not take an auger. I miss the days when toilet bowls were cleaned by running streams all the way around, but as long as humans keep multiplying like rabbits I think we'll be finding more efficient ways to do things.

12-23-2007, 09:32 PM
A net search did turn up a company that is manufacturing a low-volume reproduction of an old forward-facing trap design, although at a very high price. They also addressed the problem with a closet auger.


12-24-2007, 04:23 AM
Fascinating website. If it were me, I'd go with the high-tank Thomas Crapper model. Priceless!

12-24-2007, 05:15 AM
The front discharge toilets were called "washdowns" for a reason. Most of them did not have a jet. They flushed by filling the bowl with water and then the weight of the water created the flow which flushed the bowl. Which is the same thing we do when we dump a bucket of water into a bowl to see if it will flush.

12-24-2007, 11:28 AM
WOW!! Thanks to SamC for starting this discussion about the washdown bowl, and to HJ for the information about the bad corner in the trap (I'll make sure to take care that my washdowns won't need an auger), and for history of the term, "washdown bowl".

I agree with Mikey. That DEA website is fantastic! I've been there many times "looking" at their offerings. It would be great if they would post a video of their new "Lydia" bowl performing a 1.6 flush. And it's 12 inches rough too!!! Their collection of vintage bowls is awesome!

The photos that I sent earlier show that the 1926 bowl in my shed does exactly what HJ describes. You can see the bowl filling with water, all from the rim (and it should have been a higher, I shot that photo just as the water started to go down), then emptying. That projection in the rim in back must be some sort of a primer. As a kid, I thought it was only for show!!

Here are photos of how this bowl evolved. The "Standard" bowl below is made in 1929, and is a modified version of the 1926 bowl above. The projection (or spout) in the rim is gone and there is a jet at the bottom. The base is also slightly wider. Both bowls have the name "TIFFIN" stamped in back, but the newer version has been renamed "EJECTO", and whoever came up with this name had a wonderful sense of humor.