Outhouses and Plumbing in Farms During the 1920s and 1930s

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Time Frame: 1929-1945

Indoor plumbing was a new and exciting experience to many farm children.
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The People in the Pictures
2003
Iowa Public Television

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Transcript

When Pete first started taking photos, electric lights and indoor plumbing had not yet arrived on most farms. When electricity finally came, it meant running water could be pumped into farmhouses and soon plans were in the works for toilets and sinks and bathtubs.

Patti Dook: It just like I was the wealthiest person in the world! I just felt great not to have to go outside to go to the restroom.

Until then families had used backyard outhouses for their bathroom duties. Tiptoeing, barefoot, in the dark through yards where chickens ran all day. Exposing bare skin on cold winter days and turning to the Sears Roebuck catalog as predecessor to Charmin.

Robert Wettech: It was the first time I had ever been away from home overnight in my life and I was probably about seven or eight at the time. And we drove into the yard and the mother came out and said, “Well, Bob go on back to the barn and the kids are back at the barn.” And about half way between the barn and the house I went by this building and it looked to me like an outhouse or privy. And I thought, “Gosh, that’s a big one! It must be a four-holer!” But they had four kids, so I could understand that. So I went on and didn’t think too much about it, went out to the barn and played out there and we came back in the evening and we had supper. And we were playing anagrams and all of a sudden I realize I had better go to the bathroom. So I went out from the dining room table where we were playing anagrams, down the steps, outside and sort of made a dash for the four-holer. I opened the door and there were hams hanging in this building-it was a smokehouse instead of the privy. I came charging back in the dining room and the father he said, “Upstairs, Bob.” And I went upstairs and they had a flush toilet! I couldn’t believe it! The first one I’d ever seen!”

 


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