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Homes without indoor plumbing

Getting accurate numbers about the percentage of homes and people that did have indoor plumbing over time is not easy. However, by using various census data and other resources that have looked at this question, we were able to piece much of this picture together. Here is the data:

Homes Without Indoor Plumbing

And here are the data sources:

By 1920, 80 percent of American houses, particularly those in rural areas, still lacked indoor flush toilets.

  • The Enduring Vision, Fifth Edition, Paul S. Boyer, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Clifford E. Clark, Jr., Carleton College, et al., Technology and Culture: Chapter 18 “Flush Toilets and the Invention of the Nineteenth-Century Bathroom”

“The proportion of dwelling units with private flush toilet inside the structure increased from 60 percent in 1940 to 71 percent in 1950, representing an increase of over 10 million units. Units with private bathtub or shower rose from 56 percent to 69 percent, also amounting to over 10 million units.”

  • 1950 Census of Housing: Volume

“The plumbing question asked in the 1940 census was whether respondents had indoor plumbing. Indoor plumbing was defined as a flushing toilet, a sink with a faucet and a bathtub or shower. In 1940, 45 percent of the population reported that they did not have indoor plumbing. But more importantly, 55 percent said they did have indoor plumbing.”

  • The Plumbing Census, June 1, 2010, Julius Ballanco P.E., CPD

In 1920 only 1% of U.S. homes had electricity and indoor plumbing.

  • Lest We Forget, a Short History of Housing in the United States, James D. Lutz, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

“Serious deficiencies in housing quality were identified in the 1940 Census of Housing. Eighteen percent of housing units needed major repairs. Plumbing facilities were inadequate or missing from large numbers of units, including 31 percent with no running water, 44 percent with no bathtub or shower, and 35 percent with no flush toilet.”

By modern standards, the Nation’s housing was grossly deficient in 1940. Key findings included (figure 18):

  • 18% in need of major repair
  • 45% with one of these conditions:
    • 31% no running water
    • 10% with running water, no private flush toilet
    • 4% with private flush toilet, no private bath
  • 44% without bathtub or shower in the structure for exclusive use
    • 39% with none
    • 5% shared with others
    • 35% with no flush toilet in the structure
    • 32% with an outside toilet or privy
    • 3% with no toilet or privy

“The 1950 Census found 10 percent of housing units dilapidated, including 8 percent lacking hot water, private toilet, or bath. The 90 percent of units not dilapidated included 12 percent with running water but lacking private toilet or bath, and 12 percent with no running water.

Plumbing facilities were tabulated for year-round housing units in 1970, rather than for all housing units. In that year, 93 percent of units had all plumbing facilities, although 4 percent lacked a flush toilet, and 8 percent had no bathroom or jointly used a bathroom with another household.

1980 and 1990- In 1980, only 3 percent of year-round units had inadequate plumbing. The 97 percent with complete plumbing for exclusive use had hot and cold piped water, a flush toilet, and a bathtub or shower inside the housing unit for the exclusive use of the occupants of the unit. In 1990, only 1 percent of all housing units were lacking complete plumbing facilities.”

Tracking the American Dream: 50 Years of Housing History from the Census Bureau: 1940 to 1990

  1. John Devaney, Issued May 1994, U.S. Department of Commerce Ronald H. Brown, Secretary, BUREAU OF THE CENSUS