All About Toilets Part 1

Queen Elizabeth I, the Ajax latrine and toilets

This post will be continually updated  so we’ll call this part 1

Toilets….Where would we be without them? I know we could all dig a hole but I think it’s safe to assume everyone is grateful we have them. They are the cornerstone of modern plumbing and rightfully so, they are fairly comfortable at least for the man in the house and they remove potentially harmful human waste away from the living space. However the toilet or water closet has come a long way since the early days of plumbing. For all intents and purposes one of the earliest archaeological evidence of a flush-able latrine was in the Minoan Palace that stood 4000 years ago on the Isle of Crete. It even had a fancy wooden seat and the worlds first “water spot”.

Queen Elizabeth I, the Ajax latrine and toiletsToilet technology was largely lost until 1594 when Sir John Harington “invented” and installed the “Ajax” latrine for his godmother Queen Elizabeth and another in his 16th century home. The device never took off and Sir John never built another. It wasn’t until almost two centuries later in 1775 that the first flushing toilet was invented and patented by an Englishman Mr. Alexander Cummings.

The toilet was built with with a bowl that held several inches of water (the water spot) the water was held in the bowl by a valve. Upon finishing the valve is opened by sliding a lever releasing the contents into the trap. The slide also actuated a water spout to clean the bowl and fill it for future use.

  • Was Thomas Crapper a real person? Yep he lived in England from 1836 to 1910.
  • Was Thomas Crapper a real “Sir” as some people call him? Nope he was never knighted by the King or Queen of England or any other royalty for that matter. He was the royal sanitary engineer for Edward VII and George V.
  • Was Thomas Crapper the inventor of the modern toilet? No. Although Mr. Crapper owned 9 patents only three of them were related to water closets. In fact the product most often associated with Crapper; the valveless water waste preventer was issued to Albert Giblin (Patent 4990) The most likely scenario for the association between the modern toilet and Crapper is that he bought the patent rights and sold the product under his private label.
  • Was Thomas Crapper a real plumber. Absolutely. Mr. Crapper owned and operated two plumbing shops baring his name and a third was opened after he left the business. The business was transferred to his nephew George Crapper and his business partner Wharam.
  • As a final note the connection between slang word “crap” and Thomas Crapper has never been fully realized, some say it was taken from the Dutch word Krappe or the German work Krape and some believe the Worldwar I Doughboys (US Infantrymen) saw Crapper’s name on the toilets they used and brought the name back to the US. Suffice to say that Thomas Crapper played an integral part in the maturity of water closet function but was by no means it’s grandfather.

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