The next time you find yourself comfortably seated on your porcelain throne (or, as some might mistakenly call it, your “Crapper”), take a moment to appreciate the long and winding path that led to this marvel of modern convenience.

From the 16th Century porcelain to 2024 solar powered toilets, how did we get here?

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The Throne of Innovation: Did Thomas Crapper Really Take a Dump on History?

Contrary to popular opinion, Thomas Crapper might not deserve all the credit (or the blame, depending on how you see it), his role in the history of the lavatory. He may not have invented the dump, but he certainly helped us deal with it in a more civilised (and dare we say, dignified) manner.

Being dignified in the 21st century, hundreds of years after the death of Thomas Crapper, has always been the drive of our business. The comfort and convenience of ‘outdoor latrines’ – nowadays known as portable toilets to you and I – we supply a range of HSE approved portable toilets and shower hire for both the construction and event industry, including disabled toilet units. 

The widespread belief that Crapper’s name became synonymous with toilets is likely due to a combination of factors. His successful plumbing company’s name, “Thomas Crapper & Co,” was plastered all over his products, and the word “crap” (referring to waste) already existed in the English language, predating him by centuries.

American servicemen stationed in England during World War I encountered Crapper’s ubiquitous brand and, unfamiliar with the relatively new-fangled invention, started calling toilets “crappers.” This term eventually made its way back across the pond, solidifying the (unintentional) association between Crapper’s name and the porcelain throne.

But have you ever stopped to wonder who uncorked this marvel of modern sanitation? Popular lore might have you believe it was Thomas Crapper, a man singlehandedly responsible for banishing the chamber pot to the dustbin of history. But as with most things in life, the truth is a bit more, well, murky.

So, let’s flush away the myths and dive headfirst into the U-bendy life of Thomas Crapper and his connection to the flushing throne.

From Plumbing to Pooping – The Family Flow

Born in 1836, young Thomas wasn’t exactly born with a silver spoon in his mouth. His parents, both plumbers by trade, likely instilled in him a keen understanding of the, shall we say, “flow” of things. Imagine teenage Thomas, tinkering in his father’s workshop, surrounded by a cacophony of clanging pipes and the ever-present aroma of… well, you know. Was it here, amidst the symphony of plumbing woes, that the rumination of a revolutionary invention was being reinvented?

Now, for a bit of context, the mid-19th century wasn’t exactly a golden age for waste management. Outhouses were a fragrantly unpleasant reality, and chamber pots, well, let’s just say they weren’t exactly conducive to a pleasant olfactory experience for the nasal cavities.

Owning a workshop radio, a revolutionary gadget back then (costing around £10, a hefty sum in 1850!), was a luxury for most, so chances are young Thomas wasn’t blasting tunes while pondering his future invention. 170 years ago the popular (pop) music of the period was dominated by waltzes and polkas.

Outdoor Latrine Toilets

The Quest for the Perfect Porcelain Perch

So, how did Thomas Crapper go from plumber’s son to lavatory legend? The truth is, he didn’t invent the flushing toilet itself. The concept of a water closet, a more sophisticated version of an outhouse with a flushing mechanism, had been around since the 16th century, courtesy of Sir John Harington (a sanitation pioneer himself).

Sir John Harington (1560 – 1612) was a fascinating figure who wore many hats during the Elizabethan era.

Ballcock Cistern Victorian Toilet PlumbingHarington was a prominent figure in Queen Elizabeth I’s court, known for his wit and literary talent. He even earned the nickname “the Queen’s saucy Godson” for his playful and sometimes irreverent demeanor.

Harington was a prolific writer, translating major works like Orlando Furioso by Ariosto and penning his own satirical pieces. His most famous work, “A New Discourse of a Stale Subject, Called the Metamorphosis of Ajax” (quite the mouthful!), was a veiled criticism of the monarchy disguised as a treatise on… toilets. Yes, you read that right!

While not the sole inventor of the flushing toilet, Harington gets credit for creating a forerunner. His contraption, installed in his Kelston House, featured a flushing mechanism and was quite the novelty. It even sparked the Queen’s curiosity, though unfortunately, the technology wasn’t quite ready for widespread adoption at the time.

However, Harington’s early models were clunky, prone to leaks, and certainly not what you’d call user-friendly.

Here’s where Thomas Crapper enters the picture almost 200 years later. He saw the potential for improvement, the need for a flushing toilet that was efficient, reliable, and, dare we say, elegant. His journey wasn’t a lightbulb moment, but a series of experiments and refinements. Imagine him hunched over blueprints, surrounded by prototypes that looked more like Stewie’s Family Guy futuristic contraptions than the sleek toilets we have today.

The cost of patenting inventions in the 19th century could range from a few pounds to a hefty £25 (a significant sum back then). Funding his research likely involved a combination of personal savings, income from his plumbing business, and maybe even a loan from a particularly forward-thinking relative.

Thomas Crapper Plumber Victorian Edwardian Bathroom

The Flush of Success Began With a Ballcock

Crapper’s genius wasn’t in inventing the flushing toilet, but in perfecting it.

He obtained patents for several key improvements, including the U-bend trap (a crucial element in preventing sewer gases from wafting up) and the ballcock (the mechanism that automatically refills the cistern).

He also opened a swanky showroom, showcasing his wares to the public and upending the way people thought about… well, the way they went.

Beyond the Bowl: Crapper’s Other Contributions

While the flushing toilet is his most famous “contribution,” Thomas Crapper wasn’t a one-trick pony (or, shall we say, a one-bowl wonder). Here are some other inventions he’s credited with:

London Waste Disposal and Sanitisation Systems

Improved drainage systems: Crapper recognised the importance of efficient waste disposal beyond the toilet itself. He played a role in designing better public drainage systems, a crucial step in improving overall sanitation in London and other major cities.

High-pressure water closets: Imagine a bidet’s more powerful cousin. Crapper developed high-pressure water closets, offering a more, ahem, invigorating alternative to the traditional toilet paper.

Thomas Crapper Plumber Toilet London Waste Management

Crapper wasn’t just an inventor, he was a plumber at heart. He designed and improved upon several plumbing tools used in the trade, making life easier for his fellow plumbers. Beyond the toilet, Crapper’s ingenuity extended to the plumber’s toolbox. Historical records show a rise in the use of force pumps during the 19th century, essential for clearing stubborn blockages. Crapper’s understanding of water pressure likely led him to refine existing pump designs, making them more powerful and efficient.

The Crappy Contributions – 19th Century Cloggings Cleared

The Ballcock Valve: While not his sole invention, Crapper played a crucial role in perfecting the ballcock valve. This ingenious mechanism automatically refills the cistern after a flush, ensuring a consistent and reliable supply of water. Before Crapper’s refinements, refilling cisterns often involved a manual process, which could be messy and inconvenient.

The Force Pump: Clogged drains were a plumber’s nightmare (and still are, to some extent). Crapper is credited with developing improved force pumps, powerful tools that could blast through even the most stubborn blockages. Imagine a high-powered syringe for your pipes – that’s essentially what Crapper’s force pump did.

The Plumber’s Wrench: This might seem like a basic tool, but Crapper’s design improvements made it a more versatile and user-friendly option. He ensured the wrench had a good grip, could handle different sizes of nuts and bolts, and was overall more robust for the rigors of plumbing work.

The Lead Pipe Cutter: In the 19th century, lead pipes were still a common material for plumbing systems. Crapper designed a specific lead pipe cutter that made precise cuts, reducing leaks and ensuring a secure connection.

The Waste Pipe Trap Seal: Sewer gases were a major concern in the days before proper ventilation systems. Crapper’s contribution to the waste pipe trap seal helped prevent these noxious fumes from entering homes and buildings. This innovation played a crucial role in improving public health.

The Sewage Legacy: A Throne Fit for a King (or Queen)

So, did Thomas Crapper single-handedly invent the flushing toilet and become synonymous with the act of… well, you know? Not quite.

His contributions to sanitation innovation were undeniable. He refined existing designs, championed the importance of proper waste disposal, and helped usher in an era of cleaner, healthier living.

Waste Management in Modern Times

Burnham Portable Toilet Hire is a family business established in 1992 by Steve and Jackie Richards. The company has been successfully running for over 28 years and has grown to include Steve and Jackie’s daughter Becky, Hire Contracts Manager and Mark their son in law, plus additional employees.

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