The modern-day plunger was invented in 1874 by New York confectioner John Hawley, with the flattened rim added in 1876. The invention is referred to in the patent as a “vent-clearer,” and was marketed as a “force cup”.
For the common plunger, the cup is pushed down against the drain opening, either pressing hard into the drain to force air in, or pushing down until the rubber cup is flattened, and is then pulled out, creating
a vacuum to pull blockage material upward and dislodge waste or other
material. The cup of a kitchen plunger looks like a rubber ball cut in half with a flared edge, while the toilet plunger’s cup looks more like a distorted bowl, tapered on one half, with a large opening on the bottom.
A plunger is much more effective with water in the pipe, as water does not compress and thus transmits more of the applied force than air. When a plunger alone is ineffective, it can be supplemented by a chemical drain cleaner for sinks and tubs; or a plumber’s snake for stubborn clogs, and clogs of the main line or toilet.
THE PLUNGER CLOSET
In 1777 England, Samuel Prosser received a patent for his invention of the plunger closet. This was a new lavatory model that used a plunger to flush the toilet. Unlike the modern-day plunger, this plunger was placed in the side of the closet system on top of the outflow. When the user would lift the plunger, it would cause water and waste to rush from the bowl into the soil pipe. This model was not considered hygienic as larger waste would collect on the inside of the plunger. A year later, Joseph Bramah received a patent for his flush and valve toilet that forms the basis of modern-day toilets.