There’s something about plumbers. We tend to admire folks who are willing to do a job that we never could or would. Or maybe it’s that plumbers, like electricians, are the true gatekeepers of the modern world. Without them, we’d still use outhouses, city streets would still flood with plague-ridden waste after each rainfall, and hot showers would remain the stuff of dreams.
Plumbers mostly inhabit the background of society. No prime-time television dramas feature the professionals who offer plumbing skills to the world. But that doesn’t mean plumbers haven’t managed to become cultural icons. Folks may not realize they know of more than one famous plumber. This list of the five most famous should serve as a reminder.
5. Thomas Crapper
Born in London in the mid-1900s, Thomas Crapper may be best known by tourists who seek out the manholes which bear his name. He might be the reason toilets are often referred to as “crappers.”
He was the founder of Thomas Crapper & Co., which did not invent the flush toilet, but did help to popularize it with their one-of-a-kind showroom. Featuring a bathtub, toilet, and sink, the layout of Mr. Crapper’s store paved the way for Ikea. And everyday toilet users can thank his company for inventing the float valve, which makes refilling and flushing a toilet so darned simple.
4. Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher (aka Joe the Plumber)
In 2008, Mr. Wurzelbacher attended one of presidential candidate Barack Obama’s campaign stops in Ohio. During the Q&A, Mr. Wurzelbacher asked the presidential nominee to address taxes on small businesses, because he intended to purchase the plumbing contracting business that—at the time—employed him.
When Mr. Obama’s response included the suggestion that spreading wealth around benefits everyone, Mr. Wurzelbacher became a conservative symbol for pundits who felt Mr. Obama’s policies smacked of socialism. Thus was born the most famous contemporary American plumber—who never was.
Thanks to the media attention, Joe never purchased the small plumbing operation that made his name so catchy. Instead he became an activist, meeting several times with Republican nominee John McCain, and eventually running for political office himself.
3. Harry Patch
Known for his extreme longevity, Henry John Patch (aka Harry Patch) was a British soldier and WWI survivor who outlived all of his brothers-in-arms, save two. He died in 2009 at the ripe old age of 111 and 38 days, which made him the oldest living European man, the third oldest man alive, and the 69th oldest man ever.
He had been a plumber’s apprentice at the age of 11. Conscripted to the war in 1916, it wasn’t until after returning from battle that Harry took up full-time work as a plumber, eventually running his own plumbing company after avoiding WWII by one eligibility year. Seems that the number one was Mr. Patch’s lucky number.
2. Michael Flatley
If the name doesn’t ring a bell, the self-anointed title will: Lord of the Dance. Michael Flatley has been astonishing audiences across the globe since the mid-1990s. Originally a Riverdancer, Flatley left the troupe and launched himself as a solo touring sensation.
A member of a dancing family, with siblings who were all taught Irish dancing techniques, Michael Flatley earned a great deal of fame and notoriety. What isn’t widely known is Flatley’s success in another family tradition: plumbing. His father once ran a successful plumbing business, and for a while Michael owned one himself, called Dynasty Plumbing.
1. Mario & Luigi
These mustachioed brothers, created in 1983 by Nintendo, were the lead characters of an arcade video game called Mario Bros. Two plumbers who are forced to investigate the New York City sewers because some creepy creatures are crawling out of it, Mario and Luigi have since become two of the most well-known characters in the history of video games.
While their raison de vivre eventually became a pretty-in-pink princess, their M.O. of fighting strange creatures in sewage lines has remained the same.