10 False History 'Facts' Everyone Knows

Thomas Crapper Invented the Flush Toilet
This photograph of the worthy Mr. Crapper graces the cover of the 1902 catalogue of Thomas Crapper and Company, which sold all kinds of plumbing items and water closets. SSPL/Getty Images

Come on, this one HAS to be true! Even if it's not, can't we all just agree to continue saying that Thomas Crapper invented the flush toilet? This little pseudo-fact has been making fourth-graders giddy for centuries. While we're at it, let's start the rumor that the lollipop was invented by a Swiss woman named Ivana Lix, and the man who invented tar for sealing driveways was the Belgian Prince Philip de Cracken.

Yes, Thomas Crapper was a 19th-century plumber and manufacturer whose brand of "water closets" — gained widespread popularity in his native England. But no, Mr. Crapper did not invent the life-altering item that often bore his name. Flush toilets were already installed in finer households by the time young Crapper started his plumber apprenticeship as a child in the 1840s. And sadly for irony-lovers, the word crappe is a 13th-century word for waste, so it was likely in use for toilet-related matters before Mr. Crapper got into the business [source: Lienhard].

The true inventor of the flush toilet was likely Sir John Harington, a 16th-century English poet, translator, rogue and occasional inventor who installed one of his ingenious "loos" for Queen Elizabeth at her country palace in Surrey [source: Encyclopaedia Britannica]. If you ever wondered why toilets are called "johns," wonder no more [source: Levitz].