September 28, 2012

Medicine in the Nineteenth Century: Take a Crap

Let's talk toilets.  The invention of the flush toilet was a major advance in public health. We recently took a look at outhouses (see Teen Life Way Back When) and, as one can imagine, they were a hotbed of germs spread by hand-to-mouth.  Or, in other words, you crapped, then you ate something without washing your hands.  True, this is still practiced today by some people (yuk!) but, by and large, with the invention of the flush toilet and handwashing afterwards, most of those germs were  washed away (more on handwashing next time).

But who really invented the flush toilet and when?  Thomas Crapper is largely credited with the invention (I am not making this up - that really was his name).  According to the article "Thomas Crapper: Myth and Reality" (see link below), he was born in 1836 in England.  He may have been involved in the evolution of the flush toilet, but, as it turns out, he probably didn't invent it.

So where did the term "take a crap" come from?  It seems that is still open to debate.  The story I like best dervies from World War I.  Soldiers using the facilities in England saw  "T. Crapper - Chelsea" imprinted on the toilet tank thus forever linking Mr. Crapper's name with the toilet. Soon, "the crapper" became slang for toilet.  We still use this term today.

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