In 1596, John Harrington invented the world’s first flushing toilet.
But toilets today aren’t known as ‘Harringtons’.
In 1778, Joseph Bramah patented the world’s first practical water closet.
But toilets today aren’t known as ‘Bramahs’.
In 1852, George Jennings patented the world’s first fully flush-out toilet.
But toilets today aren’t known as ‘Jennings’.
Why is that?
If all of these men either invented or improved the toilet, why don’t any of them get the credit?
The answer is advertising and publicity.

The man we credit with inventing the toilet didn’t invent it at all.
But he did make sure his name was associated with it more than anyone else’s.
What happened was this.
In 1836, Thomas Crapper was born in Yorkshire.
He moved to Chelsea where his brother was a master plumber.
Chelsea was a very rich district and residents could afford a higher standard of indoor plumbing than other parts of England.
So Crapper became apprenticed to his brother and learned a very high standard of plumbing.
He learned all matters concerned with making human waste removal as discreet as possible.
And he learned to do work of the highest quality.
In 1861 Crapper opened his own brass foundry and workshop.
He used the latest innovations made to only the highest standards.
Such high quality were his toilets that King Edward VII ordered thirty for his home at Sandringham.
This meant his toilets could now carry the Royal Warrant.
“Thomas Crapper: makers of Sanitary Equipment For His Majesty King Edward VII”
This made his toilets sought after by the wealthy.
They wanted the warrant and the name of Thomas Crapper clearly on display.
They wanted everyone to know they had the same toilets as royalty.
So he made sure his name was clearly on everything he made.
In large, beautifully decorative letters.
On toilets bowls, on cisterns, even on the manhole covers at Windsor Castle, Buckingham Palace, and Westminster Abbey.
In 1907, Crapper opened the world’s first toilet showroom in Kings Road, with his name in large letters above the shop.
Crapper even began running advertisements for his toilets in the newspapers of the day.
Victorian society had seen nothing like it before.
And of course Thomas Crapper toilets became more famous than anyone else’s.
They became the generic for the sector.
Much the way today we say ‘Hoover’ for vacuum cleaners, ‘Biro’ for ballpoint pens, ‘Mac’ for computers.
So just as today, to vacuum the carpet we get out the hoover, in those days to relieve yourself you’d go the crapper.
His full name got shortened to just his last name.
His last name got shortened even further.
Today we would get the studio to Mac something up.
In those days you’d quietly go off for a crap.
The shortened form of his name eventually became a noun “This is a pile of crap”, a verb “I shall crap all over you”, an adjective “this is a crappy ad”, and even an adverb “you draw crappily”.
And if you were born with the name Crapper nowadays, you’d consider yourself very unlucky to have a name that has such unfortunate connotations.
Not knowing that it was the other way round.
The name preceeded the toilet.
He made a great effort to have the name Crapper associated with toilets.
But he only intended it to be synonymous with superior quality.
Rather the way Rolls Royce later became a shorthand for quality.
“The Crapper of cars” was what he would have expected them to be known as.
But it doesn’t always work out like that.
There’s an inertia to awareness.
It’s very, very hard to get it started.
But once the public takes ownership of it, it achieves its own momentum.

As Goethe said “Be careful what you wish for, you may get it.”

  • Sam Burn

    Good article, but you could also say that name has come full-circle and then some. If a brand came out today called Crap, it would be synonymous with ‘crap quality’, rather than ‘sh*t’. Which is exactly what Crapper didn’t want.


    Great piece Dave, but your history needs a minor tweak. Without wishing to come over all academic, Thomas Crapper’s name was in fact a lucky accident. The word “crap” for rubbish has been around since the 15th century, and “to crap” as a slang word for having a dump was already in existence by the 1840s. Of course, it did no harm whatsoever to Crapper’s business (so to speak) that his name already had a defecatory connotation. For gentlemen aware of the slang, it was much more amusing to buy a toilet that already said Crapper on it than one that said, say, Abbotsford…

  • Dave Trott

    Hi Simon,
    I read about the derivation from Old French/Middle English in Wikipedia or somewhere..
    IMHO that’s revisionist history.
    I’ve seen lots of books on cockney rhyming slang derivations that I know are wrong, because I was there at the time.
    We all have to choose what we believe.
    I’ll go with the story about millions and millions of pounds of free media rather than the one about an obscure Viking origin.

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