Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

Features

March 12, 2014

High-tech toilets

No hands or paper required with new generation of toilets

(Continued)

They have been a long time coming.

In the U.S., "bidets were always seen as European, and an oddity of the French," said Rose George, author of "The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters" (Metropolitan Books, 2008).

In addition to general squeamishness about discussing the way we clean ourselves, some in the U.S. worried about the high-tech toilets' requirement that a grounded electrical outlet be nearby, or thought the early control panels made the toilets look clumsy.

That said, the predecessor to modern high-tech toilets was actually invented in the United States, by Arnold Cohen of Brooklyn, who patented a pedal-operated seat he'd designed as a sort of sophisticated sitz-bath to help his ailing father. He founded the American Bidet Company in 1964, marketing his product as an "American way to bidet" and "the first wash and dry toilet." But the subject was considered too vulgar for ads.

"I installed thousands of my seats all over the suburbs of New York, and we had offices all across the country," said Cohen, whose company still exists. "But advertising was a next-to-impossible challenge. Nobody wants to hear about Tushy Washing 101."

The place where his invention really took off was Japan. "I licensed to the Toto company and sent container after container to Japan," said Cohen, whose patent later expired.

Toto came up with a more sophisticated version and by 1980 had trademarked the Washlet. Sleek, electronic and no longer marketed as primarily a bidet, it became available in the U.S. in 1989. But it took another 20 years for mainstream American vendors like Home Depot and Lowes to embrace the technology and for prices to come down enough for average consumers.

"We bugged Home Depot and other stores for seven or eight years before they finally agreed to carry bidet toilets," said Steve Scheer, president of Brondell, a San Francisco-based company that has been making high-tech models like the Swash toilet seat since 2003.

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