A Swiss invention to remember

June 23, 2010, 1 Comment

Last week I was so caught up in celebrating the Heidi Boys beating Spain that a very important anniversary passed me by. The 30th anniversary of a momentous Swiss invention, and I’m not talking about the cuckoo clock, which is clearly older than that and actually not even Swiss. Despite that infamous line from the film The Third Man (500 years of Swiss democracy and peace only producing the cuckoo clock), that timepiece originates from the Black Forest in southern Germany. Of course that doesn’t stop the Swiss selling them to anyone wanting to buy one; no point in turning away good francs.

No, the product I’m talking about is the Toilet Duck. Never has a Swiss creation been more unsung and yet so useful in so many bathrooms around the world. And it all began on 18 June 1980 in Daellikon, a small town near Zürich. On that momentous day, Walter Düring created his first WC-Ente (as it’s known in German), using a prototype made of wood though luckily he quickly moved on to a more hygienic plastic. At the time he was working for the family firm, famous in Switzerland for Durgol, a decalcifying liquid invented by Walter’s mother Maria. The Düring family are big on cleaning, it seems.

In the last three decades the Duck has conquered the world, or at least toilets everywhere, and for that I am thankful. That duck-necked bottle has made loos much easier to clean, and so helped save our noses from hateful smells and ourselves from horrid germs. As a travel writer, I’ve had to visit many a public loo and even wrote a whole article on them once; now that was memorable – loitering around public toilets across Britain, being offered sex and drugs, all in the name of research. But so many loos can be smelt before they can be seen (Cairo station is a prime example), and then you have to be really desperate to go.

The Toilet Duck isn’t the only Swiss bathroom invention. There’s also the electric toothbrush, created in 1954 by Dr Philippe-Guy Woog in Geneva, though I doubt even the most fastidious cleaner, and Switzerland has many of those, would use the two together. But it’s the Duck that I’m commemmorating today (a little late), and perhaps that should be an anual event. Perhaps 18 June should be made International Toilet Cleaning Day. Wouldn’t that be a simple way to make the world be a healthier place?

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