On a Royal Warrant

In the 1880s, Prince Albert, the son of Queen Victoria and the future King Edward VII, bought the estate of Sandringham House in Norfolk. The prince, ever someone who liked the finer things, hired only the best contractors to redo the palace into something befitting, well, a prince. The firms with which Albert contracted were granted the honor of receiving Royal Warrants.

This mark of recognition known as a Royal Warrant said that a particular firm or a product was of such high quality that it was suitable for royalty. A man named Thomas was one of the contractors who received a Royal Warrant for work at Sandringham. Thomas and his firm fulfilled their work at Sandringham so well that his company would receive several other warrants from Albert and other royals over the next decades. This prestige mark could be and in fact was used in advertising by Thomas’s company as a way of saying, in effect, “you, also, can have products/services like the royal family has!” The public came to think of Thomas and his company as the best in their particular business.

Thomas was an unlikely person to be given such royal recognition. He rose from fairly humble beginnings to become someone who rubbed elbows with the upper crust of his society. His dad was a sailor, and his older brother was a plumber. He joined his brother in the plumbing business first as an apprentice and then as a journeyman worker. Finally, he learned enough of the business to go out on his own. Instead of repairs, however, Thomas decided to concentrate on the plumbing products themselves.

Even before the Royal Warrant, Thomas made a name for himself as one of the first in Britain to open a showroom of plumbing products that the public could personally inspect and review. Never before had the general public been invited to see such a range of bathtubs, toilets, and sinks. Thomas also famously changed the way plumbing was connected and even protected. By the time he retired, Thomas held 9 patents for plumbing innovations. If you have ever had to change the floaty thingy in the back of a commode, you have touched a product invented by Thomas.

The Royal Charter for Sandringham had Thomas’s company provide facilities for 30 lavatories that featured fancy cedarwood toilet seats. Such was the notoriety of Thomas’s work at the palace that, at least in the public’s mind, Thomas’s name became synonymous with not only the facilities but also the very act and substance of what occurred in those facilities.

Who was this man who made the most of his Royal Warrant?

Thomas Crapper.

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