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Famous Inventor
Thomas P. Crapper - syphonic flush toilet
Thomas P. Crapper - syphonic flush toiletThomas P. Crapper (September 1836 - 27 January 1910) was a plumber who founded Thomas Crapper & Co. Ltd. in London. Despite the urban legend, Crapper did not invent the flush toilet (the myth assisted by his surname). However, Crapper did much to increase its popularity and came up with some related inventions. He was noted for the quality of his products and received several Royal Warrants. The manhole covers with Crapper's company's name on them in Westminster Abbey are now a minor tourist attraction.

Crapper's name is sometimes associated with the words crap and crapper although the first recorded use of word crap dates to before Crapper's career and the first use of the word crapper was long after the end of his career and its derivation could be from the word crap, or from Crapper or both.

 Thomas Crapper and his company

The story of Thomas Crapper and his achievements has been somewhat confused by Wallace Reyburn's 1969 book Flushed With Pride: The Story of Thomas Crapper (ISBN 1-85702-860-0), a heavily fictionalised satirical biography in the style of scholarship. Adam Hart-Davis's later writings on Crapper help set the record straight.

Crapper was born in Waterside, Yorkshire (near Thorne), in September 1836 (the exact date is unknown but he was baptised on 28 September 1836). His father Charles was a steamboat captain. At the age of 14, Crapper was apprenticed to a master plumber in Chelsea, London. After his apprenticeship and three years as a journeyman plumber, in 1861 he founded his own company at Robert Street, Chelsea. In 1866, he moved the business to nearby Marlborough Road (now part of Draycott Avenue).

Thomas Crapper did not invent all of the flush toilet — some credit for that is usually given to Sir John Harington in 1596, with Alexander Cummings' 1775 toilet regarded as the first of the modern line and George Jennings installing the first public toilets at The Great Exhibition in 1851 — but he did help increase its popularity. He was a shrewd businessman, salesman and self-publicist. In a time when bathroom fixtures were barely spoken of, he heavily promoted sanitary plumbing and pioneered the concept of the bathroom fittings showroom.

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. Contrary to popular belief, however, Crapper never received a knighthood and was never styled Sir Thomas Crapper.

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 thirteen years of his life and died on 27 January 1910. He was buried in the nearby Elmers End Cemetery.

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 then 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.

Crapper held nine patents, three of them for water closet improvements such as the floating ballcock, but none were for the flush toilet itself. Thomas Crapper's advertisements implied the syphonic flush was his invention — one having the text "Crapper's Valveless Water Waste Preventer (Patent #4,990) One moveable part only" — but patent 4990 (for a minor improvement to the water waste preventer) was not his, but that of Albert Giblin in 1898.

His nephew, George Crapper, did improve the siphon mechanism by which the water flow is started. A patent for this development was awarded in 1897.


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 External links

    * Thomas Crapper: Myth & Reality (Plumbing & Mechanical, June 1993)
    * Hart-Davis, Adam (1997) Thunder, flush and Thomas Crapper : an encycloopedia [sic], London : Michael O'Mara, ISBN 1-85479-245-8 — addresses many of the myths surrounding Thomas Crapper and his inventions.
    * Thomas Crapper — Fact & Fiction (Adam Hart-Davis)
    * Flushed With Pride — The Story of Thomas Crapper (Outhouses of America Tour) — with a letter from Simon Kirby of Thomas Crapper & Co. Ltd.
    * Crap (Online Etymology Dictionary)
    * Thomas Crapper (Snopes Urban Legends Reference Pages)
    * Thomas Crapper & Co. Ltd. — - The plumbing company founded by Thomas Crapper
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