Caroma: Adelaide's Bathroom Pioneers

It’s not the most conventional claim to fame but Adelaide is home to some of the world’s biggest breakthroughs in the toilet and cistern industry, all thanks to Caroma.

As one of Australia’s most recognisable companies, Caroma’s history is much more than just toilets. Founder Charles Rothauser was a pioneer in the plastics industry and his work benefited both the bathroom and medical worlds.

Despite Caroma closing down its Adelaide factory in 2017 they continue to innovate with the use of smart technology.

Let’s explore the journey.

Rothauser’s humble beginnings

Charles Rothauser was born in Hungary in 1913, a tumultuous place to grow up as World War I unfolded right on his doorstep.

As an adult, he studied architecture in Vienna, Austria, before he and wife Christine moved to Adelaide in the 1930s.

The change of scenery saw the young couple find their feet making dolls for the Quality Toy Company.

With a sound understanding of plastics and design, Rothauser opened his first factory at Norwood in 1941.

Fifteen years later is would officially become Caroma.

During those early days, the focus wasn’t entirely on bathroom products. The first major breakthrough in 1949 was actually a world first in the medical industry, the disposable plastic syringe.

Up to that point doctors and nurses used medical syringes, and when using antibiotics such as penicillin they found it incredibly difficult to clean for reuse.

In 1951 Rothauser made his creation even more versatile, developing a syringe that could be heat sterilised.

Now, where are the toilets, you ask? Follow us to 1956.

Forging the world’s first plastic cistern

There’s a running joke that Adelaide’s tap water is undrinkable. Well, we have that same water to thank for the world’s first plastic cistern.

In the 1950s Rothauser and his team created the first one piece plastic cistern to combat Adelaide’s corrosive water supply which regularly rusted brass fittings in cisterns.

The creation was a game changer and such a monumental success that Rothauser officially changed the name of his company to Caroma.

Developing the historic dual flush

Innovation spurred Caroma to become Australia’s largest manufacturer of bathroom products and toilet systems.

As a leader in the industry, their next success in 1980 again proved to be a giant leap forward.

The dual flush toilet.

In the 1970s and 1980s, there was no widespread desire to save water, but Rothauser was one of the exceptions.

Caroma’s dual flush meant there was a way for households to use either 11 litres of water in a flush or 5.5 litres.

It would save around 32,000 litres of water per household every single year.

The dual flush toilet took the world by storm, a remarkable achievement by a Hungarian immigrant based in Adelaide’s eastern suburbs.

…And what about Rothauser?

The man who founded Caroma and made several ground breaking inventions sadly passed away in 1997, aged 83.

Rothauser still lived in Adelaide, but at the time was in France at his summer home in Versailles. His funeral was held in Paris.

His legacy stretched across several industries. He was a founding member and former president of the Plastic Institute of Australia, and a founding member of the Mental Health Association of Australia.

In 1987 he was made an Officer of the Order of Australia for his distinguished service of a high degree to Australia or humanity at large.

Continuing the Caroma legacy

As the years went on Caroma continued to perfect their dual flush and its efficiency.

Caroma’s award winning Smartflush® lowered water use to 4.5 litres on a full flush in 2005, with the toilet the first in the world to earn a WELS 5 star rating. You’ll recognise the WELS rating as the star sticker on all whitegoods.

Caroma even developed the world’s first WELS 6 star urinal. Who knew there was a reason to feel so proud over an Aussie urinal!

Their latest endeavour is smart bathroom technology for real time water management in large office buildings or public bathrooms, and it’s very likely we’ll see similar advancement in our home bathrooms very soon.

Saying goodbye to Adelaide

Sadly the most recent chapter also includes an Adelaide farewell. In 2017, Caroma closed its Norwood factory, three years after its Sydney factory was shut down.

It ended 76 years of local production as Australia’s pioneering bathroom specialists.

Here at Metropolitan Plumbing we promise we’re not leaving Adelaide, ever!  Search for Metropolitan Plumbing in Adelaide to see how well we rank. That’s why you can count on us as your toilet and cistern plumbing specialists, servicing brands such as Caroma. If you need a toilet service, repair or installation at any time of the day, any day of the week, contact us now.


Published: 15 Jul, 2020

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