The American Sanitary Plumbing Museum in Worcester, Mass., will never be listed among the world's great museums, but to people who are interested in pipes and fixtures, there's no place like it. The collection got its start when Charles Manoog, the founder of a wholesale plumbing supply company, retired in 1979 and handed the business over to his son, Russ. At about the same time, someone gave the older Manoog a 300-year-old section of wooden water main that had been dug up during excavation work at Boston's Faneuil Hall.

That chance event, coupled with a lifelong passion for plumbing and a newfound abundance of free time, set Manoog to collecting plumbing fixtures and tools of all kinds, including bathtubs, water heaters, and an eye-opening variety of toilets. (One visitor favorite is a 19th-century earth closet — a Rube Goldberg-like indoor device that housed...

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