You may have heard a tale or two about Thomas Crapper, the Victorian-era inventor and sanitary engineer, but there’s a good chance those stories are untrue. So, in honor of Thomas Crapper Day on January 27 (which this year marks the 109th anniversary of his death), we want to set the record straight. Here are five facts about one of the world’s best-known but least-understood plumbers.
1. No, Thomas Crapper did not invent the flush toilet.
The biggest myth about English plumber Thomas Crapper is that he invented the first flush toilet. This would make for an amusing anecdote—”Crapper invented the crapper”—but the fact of the matter is that Crapper wasn’t even alive when the first flush toilet came to be. That dubious honor goes to Sir John Harington (a distant ancestor of Game of Thrones star Kit Harington), who built the toilet in 1596 for his godmother, Queen Elizabeth I. (She reportedly complained it was too loud). According to Snopes, many of the myths surrounding Crapper’s accomplishments stem from the 1969 book Flushed with Pride: The Story of Thomas Crapper, which “has often been dismissed as a complete fabrication.”
2. But Crapper did hold other plumbing patents.
Unless you’re a plumber, you’ve probably never stopped to appreciate the inner workings of a toilet. That little floating valve inside some toilets that prevents tank overflow is called a ballcock, and Crapper did invent that. Altogether, he held nine patents for his inventions, including designs for water closets (early flush toilets), manhole covers, pipe joints, and drain improvements.
3. Crapper plumbed for the British Royalty.
Crapper’s plumbing company was commissioned to do plumbing projects for some pretty high-profile clients, including the people over at Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, and the Sandringham Estate. Sadly, any tales that he was knighted by the Queen are untrue.
4. Crapper opened the world’s very first bathroom showroom in 1870.
This is perhaps Crapper’s greatest claim to fame. At a time when it was considered improper to publicly acknowledge bodily functions, Crapper’s Marlboro Works showroom boldly placed functioning toilets on display—and customers could even try them out before buying them. According to Snopes, an article in Plumbing and Mechanical Magazine argued that Crapper “should best be remembered as a merchant of plumbing products, a terrific salesman, and advertising genius.”
5. You can still see Crapper’s name on manholes in London.
If you head to Westminster Abbey and look down, you might see a manhole sporting Crapper’s name This is because he re-plumbed the building. According to the Londonist, some original Crapper toilets can also be found around the city—complete with chain-pulls—and a plaque commemorating Crapper’s achievements can be seen outside his former home in the London Borough of Bromley.