When you hear someone using bathroom humor by saying they’re “going to the crapper,” you can thank Thomas Crapper. When you hear someone cleaning up their bathroom humor by saying they’re, “going to the John,” you can thank John Harrington.
“Why? Because John Harrington and Thomas Crapper invented the toilet?”
“Yes.” And “No.”
“Yes,” because John Harrington is credited with inventing the flushing toilet in 1596. “No” because Thomas Crapper didn’t invent any toilet.
John Harrington’s story is simple to understand. He was a writer, translator, and inventor who devised the concept of the flushing toilet. Boom. Origins for, “going to the John,” quickly discovered.
Thomas Crapper’s story has a little more “crap” to sift through.
Thomas Crapper was known for inventing the concept of bathroom fittings in the late 19th century to make flush toilets more sanitary. A couple government warrants (contracts) and his business took off.
The closet Thomas Crapper got to inventing the flush toilet, among his 9 overall patents and 3 toilet-related patents, was a patent for the “floating ballcock.”.
“Man. This story is just clogged with bathroom humor.”
What’s a floating ballcock?
Ballcock are still used today in flush toilets – like the one presumably in your house. It’s the system in your toilet’s water tank that lets in just the amount of water your tank needs. The water bobs the float…
“What’s a float?”
It’s the big ball-looking thing at the end of the “lift arm, “, the stick-looking-thing. It’s floating out in the water. It’s hard to miss it.
“The thing that looks…”
And we won’t extend our toilet humor that far.
Continuing, the water fills up, raising the float. Once the water reaches the fill line, it has all the water it needs to perform the next flush.
At that point, the float is high enough that it pushes the lift arm down, shutting the fill valve shaft and stopping more water from pouring in.
Here’s where it gets interesting: the “floating ballcock” wasn’t invented for flush toilets.
Oh, no. That would make the story simple. He did them for siphonic flush toilets, and according to Wikipedia’s sources, Crapper wrote crappy ads implying he invented the siphonic flush.
“Well that’s crap. So, how did Thomas Crapper get the nickname if he didn’t invent a toilet?”
So the story goes, Thomas Crapper’s accessories were on toilets used by American soldiers serving in England during World War I. Soldiers saw the name, and well, did what any good American would do…and now we have a phrase which sticks today.
So, that’s why we either, “go to the John,” or “go to the crapper.”
Any other questions you would like answered?
PS: A shout out to my digital marketer, Nat Finn of “How to Write & Publish Books of Blues. Hopefully.” When I asked him his take on the story, he pointed out he was always told his great-great-great-great grandfather Inok Bourne invented the porcelain toilet. Here’s to hoping that story isn’t full of…you get it.