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Thomas Crapper

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Thomas Crapper
Thomas Crapper.jpg
Born(1836-09-28)September 28, 1836
Waterside, Thorne, Yorkshire, England, United Kingdom
Died27 January 1910(1910-01-27) (aged 73)
Anerley, Bromley, England, United Kingdom
OccupationIndustrialist, plumber
Spouse(s)Maria Green (1837–1902)[1]
Parent(s)Charles Crapper

Thomas Crapper (baptised 28 September 1836; died 27 January 1910) was a plumber who founded Thomas Crapper & Co in London. He was noted for the quality of his products and received several royal warrants.

Manhole covers with Crapper's company's name on them in Westminster Abbey are now one of London's minor tourist attractions.[2][3] Thomas Crapper & Co owned the world's first bath, toilet and sink showroom, in King's Road until 1966. The firm's lavatorial equipment was manufactured at premises in nearby Marlborough Road (now Draycott Avenue).


Manhole cover, inscribed "T Crapper & Co Sanitary Engineers Marlboro Works Chelsea London"

Crapper was born in Thorne, South Yorkshire, in 1836; the exact date is unknown, but he was baptised on 28 September 1836. His father, Charles, was a sailor. In 1853 he was apprenticed to his brother George, who was a master plumber in Chelsea. After his apprenticeship and three years as a journeyman plumber, in 1861 Crapper set himself up as a sanitary engineer, with his own brass foundry and workshops in nearby Marlborough Road.[1]

The flushing toilet was invented by John Harington in 1596. Joseph Bramah of Yorkshire patented the first practical water closet in England in 1778. George Jennings in 1852 also took out a patent for the flush-out toilet.[4][5] In a time when bathroom fixtures were barely spoken of, Crapper heavily promoted sanitary plumbing and pioneered the concept of the bathroom fittings showroom.[citation needed]

Thomas Crapper Branding on one of his company's toilets

In the 1880s, Prince Edward (later Edward VII) purchased his country seat of Sandringham House in Norfolk and asked Thomas Crapper & Co. to supply the plumbing, including thirty lavatories with cedarwood seats and enclosures, thus giving Crapper his first Royal Warrant. The firm received further warrants from Edward as king and from George V both as Prince of Wales and as king.

In 1904, Crapper retired, passing the firm to his nephew George and his business partner Robert Marr Wharam. Crapper lived at 12 Thornsett Road, Anerley, for the last six years of his life and died on 27 January 1910. He was buried in the nearby Elmers End Cemetery.[1]

In 1966 the company was sold by then owner Robert G. Wharam (son of Robert Marr Wharam) on his retirement, to their rivals John Bolding & Sons. Bolding went into liquidation in 1969. The company fell out of use until it was acquired by Simon Kirby, a historian and collector of antique bathroom fittings, who relaunched the company in Stratford-upon-Avon, producing authentic reproductions of Crapper's original Victorian bathroom fittings.[6]

Most important and lasting achievements

As the first man to set up public showrooms for displaying sanitary ware, he became known as an advocate of sanitary plumbing, popularising the notion of installation inside peoples homes. He also helped refine and develop improvements to existing plumbing and sanitary fittings. As a part of his business he maintained a foundry and metal shop which enabled him to try out new designs and develop more efficient plumbing solutions.[7] He won a patent as the original inventor for using a "floating ball cock" as a part of a water closet arrangement. He invented improvements on existing water closets, and he owned the patent for the siphonic flush toilet. He invented the manhole cover enabling easy maintenance access. As well as various improvements to plumbing fittings, not least improvements to the developing the plumbing trap (U-bend). While it's true that Alexander Cummings invented an S-shaped trap (the S-bend) in 1775, it had reliability problems. Once invented (despite its simplicity and reliability) widespread use of it in sewage systems was slow to catch on; coming, only when the Great Stink of the Thames in 1858, forced Parliament to pass laws in the 1860s for closed sewers to be installed. It would eventually be replaced by Crapper's improved bend trap in 1880. The new U-bend was a significant improvement on the "S" as it could not jam, and unlike the S-bend, it did not have a tendency to dry out, and did not need an overflow.[8] The BBC was to nominate the S-bend as one of the 50 Things That (have) Made the Modern Economy[9]

Siphonic flush toilet

Crapper's Valveless Waste Preventer

Crapper held nine patents, three of them for water closet improvements such as the floating ballcock, but none was for the flush toilet itself.[10] Thomas Crapper's advertisements implied the siphonic flush was his invention; one having the text "Crapper's Valveless Water Waste Preventer (Patent #4,990) One movable part only", but patent 4990 (for a minor improvement to the water waste preventer) was not his, but that of Albert Giblin in 1898.[11][12] Crapper's nephew, George, did improve the siphon mechanism by which the water flow is started. A patent for this development was awarded in 1897.[13]

Origin of the word "crap"

It has often been claimed in popular culture that the slang term for human bodily waste, crap, originated with Thomas Crapper because of his association with lavatories. A common version of this story is that American servicemen stationed in England during World War I saw his name on cisterns and used it as army slang, i.e. "I'm going to the crapper".[14]

The word crap is actually of Middle English origin and predates its application to bodily waste. Its most likely etymological origin is a combination of two older words, the Dutch krappen: to pluck off, cut off, or separate; and the Old French crappe: siftings, waste or rejected matter (from the medieval Latin crappa, chaff).[14] In English, it was used to refer to chaff, and also to weeds or other rubbish. 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.[14]


  1. ^ a b c McConnell, Anita (2004), "Crapper, Thomas (1837–1910)", Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, retrieved 10 November 2008 (subscription or UK public library membership required)
  2. ^ Goddard, Donald (26 May 1985), "Group Walks Gain Ground in London", New York Times, retrieved 2 March 2009
  3. ^ Thomas Crapper history, Westminster Abbey, Sandringham, Thomas Crapper & Co., 24 January 2004, retrieved 2 February 2009
  4. ^ Krinsky, William L. (2 March 1999), "Of Facts and Artifacts", New York Times, retrieved 2 March 2009
  5. ^ Wilson, Blake (16 December 2008), "Tom the Plumber", New York Times, retrieved 2 March 2009
  6. ^ Hume, Robert (January 2010), "Thomas Crapper: Lavatory Legend", BBC History Magazine, Stone Publishing House 2009, ISBN 978-0-9549909-3-0
  7. ^ "When Did Thomas Crapper Die?". Retrieved 5 November 2017.
  8. ^ "Difference between U, P, and S Traps explained". Retrieved 30 October 2017.
  9. ^ 50 Things That Made the Modern Economy: S-Bend
  10. ^ "Thomas Crapper: Myth & Reality". Retrieved 5 November 2017.
  11. ^ Hart-Davis, Adam, Thomas Crapper – Fact and Fiction, ExNet, retrieved 13 May 2010
  12. ^ GB 189804990, Giblin, Albert, "Improvements in Flushing Cisterns", published 1 March 1898, issued 9 April 1898 
  13. ^ GB 189700724, Crapper, George & Robert Marr Wharam, "Improvements in or relating to Automatic Syphon Flushing Tanks", published 11 January 1897, issued 6 March 1897 
  14. ^ a b c World Wide Words

Further reading

External links