Forget The Crap You've Heard About Thomas Crapper!
Editor’s note: This topic may have already been addressed on the site, but it’s never a bad thing to revisit important poop history. Besides, I could not imaging not sharing this article with all of you seeing as it contains the phrase ‘royal dumplings’.
Who actually invented the flush toilet? Thomas Crapper usually gets the credit but it wasn’t he who did so. Crapper did apply for some patents relating to flush toilets in the later years of the nineteenth century, but the first flush toilet in England beats that date by about three hundred years.
Sir John Harington illustrated his revolutionary water closet design in his 1596 treatise A New Discourse upon a Stale Subject: The Metamorphosis of Ajax. Harington then peddled his newfangled commode to his godmother, Queen Elizabeth I, who then plunked her royal behind down on the one she had installed in Richmond Palace.
The flushing mechanism of Harington's device consisted of pulling a knob to empty a water cistern, which sat above the toilet bowl. I would assume that this menial task was carried out by a chamber maid, who also may have borne the responsibility of wiping the royal asshole free of any post poop debris; this, however, is mere conjecture on my part. The royal dumplings were collected in a vault beneath the floor, which required periodic emptying.
Prior to Harington's invention, people relieved themselves in chamber pots – AKA slop jars – and tossed the contents outdoors and into nearby waterways. I have read that in medieval London the "slops" were often just tossed out the window, and herds of swine roamed the streets in search of whatever food, including the occasional turd, they could find for their sustenance. I wonder if people ate the pork and, if so, did it have an off taste?
The first flush toilets may have been Asian, as archaeologists have discovered ruins indicating the Chinese may have engineered a kind of flush toilet by 206 B.C. It boasted running water and a stone seat. (The Tang Dynasty is credited for being the first civilization to have used toilet paper as well.)
Thomas Crapper became widely associated with toilets not so much for his claim to the innovation but for his salesmanship. He established sanitation showrooms and cleverly imprinted his memorable last name on his wares. If he hadn't done this the English language might have been deprived of a great euphemism, and we might very well be taking "Haringtons" today.