Today is Thomas Crapper Day!

thomas-crapperThomas Crapper was a plumber in the late 19th century who founded Thomas Crapper & Co. Ltd. in London. He is widely (but erroneously) credited with invention of the flush toilet.

Thomas Crapper’s date of birth is unknown but a record exists of his baptism in Thorne, Yorkshire, on September 28, 1836. He died January 27, 1910 so that date every year is dedicated to his memory because of all he did for England and the rest of the world.

Actually, Crapper did not invent the flushing toilet. It was invented by John Harington in 1596 but it never achieved much success commercially. Most people had never seen a flush toilet until after the 1880s. Crapper improved the design and used his skills as a shrewd businessman and salesperson to make it extremely popular. His company, Thomas Crapper & Co, owned the world’s first bath, toilet and sink showroom, in King’s Road, London, England.

thomas-crapper-coThe manhole covers in Westminster Abbey still have the Crapper Company name on them. They are a common tourist attraction in England.

The slang term for human bodily waste, crap, would appear to be derived from Thomas Crapper’s name but such an assumption would be in error. The word appears to be much older and appeared in other languages long before Thomas Crapper was born. In English, its first application to bodily waste, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, appeared in 1846 under a reference to a crapping ken, or a privy, where ken means a house.

Contrary to popular myth, Thomas Crapper was never knighted, and thus was not entitled to use the term “Sir” before his name. There is no record of his ever using the title. The first references to SIR Thomas Crapper appeared long after his death.

While Crapper may not be the inventor of the product he is most often associated with, his contribution to England’s plumbing history is significant. Let’s celebrate Thomas Crapper Day today and take a moment to appreciate all that he did for the promotion of sanitary plumbing. The world would be very different without his salesmanship and the promotion of his products!



I have the book “Flushed with Pride: The Story of Thomas Crapper “


To quote from Black Adder:

von Richthoven: How lucky you English are to find the toilet so amusing. For us, it is a mundane and functional item. For you, the basis of an entire culture.

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in my young childhood (1950–) we had a three varied size outdoor building but we call it an outhouse!


Sir John Harrington (4 August 1560 – 20 November 1612)

Sir John Harington (also spelled Harrington) (4 August 1561 – 20 November 1612), of Kelston, was a courtier, author and master of art, popularly known as the inventor of the flush toilet. He became a prominent member of Queen Elizabeth I’s court, and was known as her “saucy Godson”. But because of his poetry and other writings, he fell in and out of favour with the Queen.

The work for which he is best known today, A New Discourse of a Stale Subject, called the Metamorphosis of Ajax (1596) is a political allegory and a coded attack on the monarchy. His New Discourse described a forerunner to the modern flush toilet that was installed at his house at Kelston.
Early life, education and family
Harington was born in Kelston, Somerset, England, the son of John Harington of Kelston, the poet, and his second wife Isabella Markham, a gentlewoman of Queen Elizabeth I’s privy chamber. He had the honour of being accepted as a godson of the childless Queen, becoming one of her 102 godchildren.

The exact relationship between the John Harington of Kelston and the line of his contemporary John Harington, 1st Baron Harington of Exton has not been established. Apparently John of Kelston did not know the pedigree of his obscure grandfather, Alexander of Stepney. Nevertheless it is generally assumed that he was also descended from the first Lord Harington of Aldingham, a baron in Edward II’s time.

He was educated at Eton and King’s College, Cambridge. Harington wed Mary Rogers, daughter of George Rogers of Cannington (son of Sir Edward Rogers) and Joan Winter, on 6 September 1583 and together they had nine children, two of whom died young, as his autograph revisions make clear. His grandmother Queen Elizabeth the third. Life as a courtier under Elizabeth

Although he had studied the law, Harington was attracted early in life to the royal court, where his free-spoken attitude and poetry gained Elizabeth’s attention. The Queen encouraged his writing, but Harington was inclined to overstep the mark in his somewhat Rabelaisian and occasionally risqué pieces. His attempt at a translation of Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso caused his banishment from court for some years. Angered by the raciness of his translations the Queen told Harington that he was to leave and not return until he had translated the entire poem. She chose this punishment rather than actually banishing him, but she considered the task so difficult that it was assumed Harington would not bother to comply. Harington, however, chose to follow through with the request and completed the translation in 1591. His translation received great praise, and is one of the translations still read by English speakers today.

Invention of the toilet
Around this time, Harington also devised Britain’s first flushing toilet – called the Ajax (i.e., a “jakes” – jakes being an old slang word for toilet) . It was installed at his manor in Kelston. In 1596, Harington wrote a book called A New Discourse upon a Stale Subject: The Metamorphosis of Ajax about his invention. He published it under the pseudonym of Misacmos. The book made political allusions to the Earl of Leicester that angered the Queen. The book was a coded attack on the “stercus” or excrement that was poisoning society with torture and state-sponsored “libels” against his relatives Thomas Markham and Ralph Sheldon. After the publication of this work he was again banished from the court. The Queen’s mixed feelings for him may have been the only thing that saved Harington from being tried at Star Chamber. The work itself enjoyed considerable popularity on its publication in 1596.

The forerunner to the modern flush toilet had a flush valve to let water out of the tank, and a wash-down design to empty the bowl. The term, ‘John’, used particularly in the USA, is generally accepted as a direct reference to its inventor.

Harrington and his invention of the toilet was spoofed on the show South Park, in the episode Reverse Cowgirl. In the episode, he appears in ghost form at a trial for Clyde Donavan’s mother, claiming that people have been misusing the toilet for years and that rather than sit front ways, it was meant to have people sit back ways facing the back of the toilet, where he claims it was a shelf for your quill and ink.

Campaigns in Ireland
In 1599 the queen sent an army, led by Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, to Ireland during the Nine Years War (1595–1603). Following her strong recommendation that Essex include him in his army, Harington was put in command of horsemen under Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton. Harington’s legacy from this campaign were his letters and journal, which served to give the queen good intelligence about the progress of the campaign and its politics. Harington wrote, “I have informed myself reasonably well of the whole state of the country, by observation and conference: so I count the knowledge I have gotten here worth more than half the three hundred pounds this journey hath cost me.” During the campaign Essex conferred a knighthood on Harington for his services. Essex fell into disfavour with the queen for concluding the campaign on a truce, and also caused her fury over the large number of knighthoods he awarded. Harington had been present at the truce negotiations, and on accompanying Essex when he returned to court to account to the queen, he experienced the royal wrath. However, his wit and charm soon secured the queen’s forgiveness.

Life as a courtier under James I
After the queen’s death, Harington’s fortunes faltered at the court of the new King, James I. He had stood surety for the debts of his cousin, Sir Griffin Markham, in the sum of £4000, when the latter had become involved in the Bye and Main Plots. Not able to meet his cousin’s debts without selling his own lands, and unwilling to languish in gaol, he escaped custody in October 1603. However, James I had already recognised his loyalty and created him a Knight of the Bath and also granted him the properties forfeited upon Markham’s exile.

Towards the end of his life, Sir John Harington became the tutor to Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales. He annotated for him a copy of Francis Godwin’s De praesulibus Angliae. Harington’s grandson, John Chetwind later published these annotations in 1653, under the title of A Briefe View of the State of the Church. While tutoring the Prince, he also translated Regimen sanitatis Salernitanum (Health Regimen of the School of Salernum), a medieval collection of health tips, from Italian to English verse, published in 1607 in London at the John Holme and John press.

Harington fell ill in May 1612 and died on 20 November 1612, at the age of 51, soon after Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales, who died on 6 November; he was buried in Kelston.



I’ve done some research on Thomas Crapper and his best known invention – a quiet flush tank valve. Prior to Crapper, there were flush toilets, but the valves were simple and noisy. It was said that when these pre-Crapper toilets were flushed, the noise of water rushing though the pipes would wake up everyone in the house, and perhaps the next door neighbors. Mr. Crapper’s tank/valves were surprisingly quiet. The toilet tank valves used in Britain and Europe even today is similar to the Crapper valve, but not at all like the modern American flush valve. Crapper’s company manufactured the tank and valve combinations, but NOT the toilet itself.

I suspect that American soldiers in France during World War One (most of whom were farm boys, that had only used privies), would visit restaurants to eat the food, then to go and inspect the “facilities.” Imagine these young men standing and taking turns watching each other pulling the chain and marveling at the toilet flush. They probably wondered what the thing was called and then they would see the word on the front of the tank (but not the ceramic toilet bowl) that read
“C R A P P E R.”


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