Curious about the road that led to modern-day plumbing? Read ahead to discover its surprisingly fascinating history.
There are nearly 500,000 plumbers in the United States alone.
The field of plumbing is expected to continue growing by double-digit amounts. Today, indoor plumbing is available almost everywhere in the world. However, this wasn’t always the case, as you’ll see when looking back on the history of plumbing.
Today’s modern plumbing systems can be traced back to centuries prior.
There are legends of ancient figures, such as the King of Crete, having indoor toilets upwards of thousands of years ago; how well an ancient water closet functioned is still up for debate. People have spent countless hours innovating how we receive fresh water and dispose of the bad.
In this article, we’ll discuss the history behind plumbing and how it’s evolved over time.
The Ancient History of Plumbing
Many artifacts of plumbing’s history can be traced back to the ancient world.
From the water closet of the Minoans on Crete, to the first canal systems in Mesopotamia; these all contributed to plumbing’s evolution. But, it was the Romans that really brought everything together.
It’s widely-speculated that the Romans built their first sewer system between 800 and 735 B.C. This system was built to improve sanitation. Over the centuries, Rome continued to make improvements to its overall sanitation and plumbing.
By the year 100 A.D., they had begun to put indoor plumbing into their homes. With eleven aqueducts serving the city of Rome, it became the first with truly extensive plumbing efforts. A wonder for its time, people from all over the world were astounded by this advanced Roman infrastructure.
Had Rome survived, or at least their technology, we may have had access to modern plumbing ages ago. Sadly, that was not meant to be. With the fall of Rome and the rise of the Middle Ages, the development of plumbing would take a back seat.
Plumbing in the Middle Ages
Using the phrase “plumbing in the Middle Ages” is a bit of a misnomer. Homes in this time period didn’t make use of anything we would commonly identify as plumbing. Some cities did utilize sewers, but for the most part, waste was simply tossed out of windows.
People soon realized that there was a need for plumbing, but sanitation wasn’t initially much of a consideration.
The first known example of a semi-modern flushing toilet was brought to us by the English. In 1596, it was developed for Queen Elizabeth of England and installed to help protect people’s dignity and privacy.
This invention never really caught on and it would still take another two centuries before we began to see modern plumbing systems.
Of course, there’s more to plumbing than toilets, and that’s where our journey leads next.
Early Modern Plumbing
During the Enlightenment period and the Industrial Revolution, sewer systems began to take shape.
Some cities, such as Rome, could use their ancient sewers as a good foundation. Networking these sewers together and adding pumping technology changed the way we consider sanitation and water distribution.
While all of this was truly revolutionary, it’s not what we would typically consider modern plumbing.
It’s not until the 19th century that the first true modern sewer and plumbing systems began to take shape. These systems would revolutionize the world for years to come.
The Start of Modern Plumbing
Throughout the 1850s, the city of New York worked on constructing its sewers. Miles of piping was laid beneath the surface of the city. These replaced the failing systems, first installed in the 1740s with tunnels still used today.
During the latter half of the 1800s, wealthier individuals began to have indoor plumbing as a standard. They dumped their waste directly into underground sewage. This was well before the invention of sewage treatment plants.
Slowly, cities around the world began to expand and modernize their traditional systems. With the 20th century nearing close, the elite living in larger cities had open access to plumbing. Unfortunately, most average people still didn’t have basic necessities such as running water.
The 1930s Water Revolution
During the early 20th century, a number of cities started to provide clean running water. This helped make indoor plumbing a reality for millions of Americans.
Despite this, most Americans still didn’t have indoor plumbing. It wasn’t until the 1930s that indoor plumbing, running water, and modern bathrooms would arrive in rural America.
In the 1930s, most US citizens still lived in rural areas and small towns. These areas were difficult to modernize because most lacked any form of supporting infrastructure. During the 1930s, this all changed, as the government began supporting work that would spread pipes and running water all across the country.
It was this event more than any other that gave us what we now know as modern plumbing. It also gave us the first modern plumbers.
Outhouses were slow to become outdated; they were still widely used into the 1960s and beyond. As water and waste systems became more complex, they eventually phased out.
By the 1970s and 80s, every newly installed house in America had a recognizable toilet and water system. This trend has continued until the current day, with innovation mostly revolving around efficiency and durability.
Understanding of health and sanitation has increased overall as well. Our ability to treat water and render it safe for consumption has never been higher.
The history of plumbing is in many ways a history of civilization. Plumbing and sewer systems are what allowed us to build the mega cities of today’s world. Without it, we would still have to rely on natural running water, like rivers, to flush waste away from our homes.
Populations continue to expand and will likely never slow down. More attention is being paid now to advancing our plumbing systems than ever before. The next few decades are guaranteed to add more to the storied history of plumbing in the annals of civilization.
While plumbing has come a long way since the days of kings and queens, it’s not perfect. Many problems, like clogged pipes, can still plague your plumbing systems.
Is your plumbing acting up? Contact the experienced plumbers at Eyman at (402) 731-2727 for help with any of your plumbing problems.