Monday, January 28, 2013

#Crap about Thomas Crapper

The Venerable by Mark Hillary

January 27

Thomas Crapper

You may be wondering why there is a picture of a toilet on my blog posting today. Don't be disgusted. We're not going to be talking about crap just the legend that is associated with a plumber named Thomas Crapper. You might not be able to see it on the inside of the toilet but the seal claims this is a Thomas Crapper and Co. made toilet. The Thomas Crapper and Co. was started in the 19th century and still operates in Britain today.

 Alright, I can hear you giggle. A man by the last name of Crapper made a toilet? Go ahead, laugh. 

 Today, we honor the man whose claim to fame is the invention of the toilet. Sad part is, Thomas Crapper didn't invent the toilet. On the contrary, humans have been trying to deal with the elimination of their crap since pre-history. You see the many developments we have made concerning the toilet here -  The world's first flushing toilet was invented by John Harrington in 1536. The first practical water closet (precursor to the bathroom) was patented by Joseph Braman of Yorkshire in 1778. Both of which were long before Thomas Crapper was ever born. While Thomas didn't invent the toilet he did heavily promote the use of sanitary plumbing and bathroom fixtures. 

As for the belief that he is also responsible for our slang use of the word crap to mean human waste. That's another myth I have to bust here. Humans have been associating that word with human waste since the Middle Ages. Can you imagine what this man must have gone through as a schoolboy?

Thomas Crapper
Thomas Crapper
US Public Domain
Thomas Crapper was born in Waterside, a small hamlet close to Thorne, Yorkshire in 1836. His exact birth date is still a mystery but we do know he was baptised on September 28, 1836. His father, Charles Crapper, was a steamboat captain and made a modest living for his family. In 1853, Thomas entered into an apprenticeship under his brother, George Crapper. George was a master plumber in Chelsea, England. Thomas spent three years working as a journeyman plumber under his brother instruction. After learning everything he could from George, Thomas set up his own sanitation engineering company in 1861 on Robert Street in Chelsea with it's own brass foundry and workshops. The brass foundries and workshops allowed Thomas to create special items he needed for the products he was manufacturing. Thomas was an inquisitive man who loved to invent things. He also used his workshops and foundry to feed his desire to create new inventions. 

Thomas filed nine patents in his lifetime and was granted each one. He is the inventor of the manhole cover. One of his manhole covers is still located in Westminster Abbey. Thomas also invented the ballcock. The ballcock is the floating mechanism used in the flushing toilet. It enables the toilet to refill after it is flushed without overflowing.  

Later, Thomas entered into a business partnership with Robert Marr Wharam. Robert brought the financial and accounting skills that Thomas needed in order to expand his business. In 1866, the two men expanded Thomas Crapper and Company to the Marlboro Works near Malborough Road. What set Thomas' company apart from the rest was his showroom. Never before had any sanitation engineer create a space where their customers could see the products firsthand before they decided to buy it. 

In 1880, Queen Victoria purchased the Sandringham house in Norfolk County and gave it to her son, the Prince of Wales. Prince Edward decided to demolish the house and build a new one. He hired Thomas Crapper to supply all the plumbing, install the cloakroom and thirty bathrooms with cedarwood seats. This was the first royal warrant Thomas was given. Prince Edward was so impressed with Thomas work that after he inspected his new home he asked Thomas for a light of his cigar. Thomas didn't smoke cigars and couldn't supply his prince's demands. Nevertheless, after that encounter, Thomas started to carry a golden matchbox in his pocket everyday. The royals kept coming back for more of Thomas' works. Prince Edward would grant him another royal warrant after he was crowned King Edward VII. His son, George V would grant Thomas two more warrants, once while he was Prince of Wales and another after his coronation. As you can imagine, Thomas' business grew in popularity from the all the royal attention. 

You can read more about Thomas Crapper from his company's website at and in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography at 

Thomas died on January 27, 1910 in Anerley, Bromley, England. He is buried in Elmers End Cemetery. 

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