Alexander Cumming

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Alexander Cumming
Alexander Cumming Clockmaker.jpg
Born 1731/2
Edinburgh, Scotland
Died 8 March 1814 (aged 82)
Pentonville, England
Known for Design of the flush toilet

This article is about the inventor. For the Governor of Colorado, see Alexander Cummings

Alexander Cumming (often referred to as Cummings, 1731/2–8 March 1814) was a Scottish watchmaker who was the first to patent a design of the flush toilet. The S-shaped trap (or bend) was invented by Cumming in 1775 to prevent sewer gases from entering buildings.[1] It survives in today's plumbing modified as a U- or J-shaped pipe trap located below or within a plumbing fixture.

Cumming was a mathematician and mechanic as well as a watchmaker. Little is known of his early life. He is believed to have been born in Edinburgh. In the 1750s he was employed by Archibald Campbell, 3rd Duke of Argyll at Inverary as an organ builder as well as a clockmaker.[2] After his move to England he continued to work in both fields. The Earl of Bute and his family commissioned a series of elaborate barrel organs with which Cumming was involved.[3][4]

By 1763 he had premises in Bond Street, London, and "had acquired a sufficient reputation to be appointed a member of the commission set up in that year to adjudicate on John Harrison's ‘timekeeper for discovering the longitude at sea’".[2] He made a barometrical clock for King George III, who paid him an annual retainer for its maintenance.[5] Other barometrical clocks created by him are at the Science Museum and on the Isle of Bute.[6] He wrote books about watch and clock work, about the effect on roads of carriage wheels with rims of various shapes, and on the influence of gravity.

With his brother he was involved in the development of the Pentonville district of London, where there is a Cumming street. He had a house in the district and an organ shop.


He became a magistrate in 1779. In 1781 he was made an honorary freeman of the Clockmakers' Company. In 1783 the Royal Society of Edinburgh was created and Cumming was made a Fellow.[2][7]

As a result of his making instruments for Capt. Phipps's voyage in the polar regions, the island of Cummingøya in Svalbard was named after him.[8]


  1. ^ "The Development of the Flushing Toilet – Detailed Chronology 1596 onwards". Twyfords Bathrooms. Retrieved 2015-05-25. 
  2. ^ a b c Gloria Clifton (2004), "Cumming, Alexander (1731/2–1814)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press. (Subscription or UK public library membership required)
  3. ^ Malloch (1983). "The Earl of Bute's Machine Organ: A Touchstone of Taste". Early Music Vol. 11, No. 2. OUP. Retrieved 18 October 2014.  Accessed via JSTOR (subscription required)
  4. ^ Lowther Castle National Pipe Organ Register
  5. ^ Barometrical Clock by Alexander Cumming at the Royal Collection.
  6. ^ Bute Collection; Decorative Arts; Mount Stuart online;
  7. ^ Cumming, Alexander (1731/2-1814). Royal Society
  8. ^ Cumming; Polar; [Norwegian];

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