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How People Dealt With Poop and Pee Back Then

You might not believe it, but urine used to be very valuable in Ancient Rome. A lot of people became rich for collecting urine that the Roman government decided to tax them. It might sound absurd and exaggerated, but it was big business at that time.

When it comes to poop, on the other hand, people in the past, from China and Japan, specifically, also had a different way of dealing with them. Back then, they didn’t have toilet papers at their disposal. Instead, they had hygiene sticks.

Know more about how we dealt with our biohazardous wastes throughout history over at

(Image Credit: Prichardson/ Wikimedia Commons)

Not just the Romans! Urine use for tanning and fulling (cleaning wool) was widespread. Starting around the Renaissance, urine was used to make saltpeter, essential for the gunpower used in centuries of wars. For example, saltpetermen would come to dig saltpeter from under the barn where the animals peed (and everywhere else with nitrated earth, under protection of the crown). Urine from beer and wine drinkers was in demand because it was thought to produce better yields. There's even a story during the US Civil war when Jonathan Haralson, Agent Nitre and Mining Bureau, asked the "ladies of Selma ... to preserve the chamber lye to be collected for the purpose of making nitre. A barrel will be sent around daily to collect it." Leading Northerners to write a ditty to the tune of "O Tannenbaum": "Jon Haralson, Jon Haralson—you are a wretched creature; You’ve added to this bloody war a new and useful feature. / You’d have us think, while every man is bound to be a fighter, / The Ladies, bless the pretty dears, should save their pee for nitre."
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