Flushed with Pride: 1850's Bathroom Boasts Early Plumbing Technology
Pipes pumped water from the first-floor laundry to the attic, where the
water stayed stored in large cisterns. Opening the faucets or yanking
the toilet handle (on left) would allow the water to flow down into the
bathroom fixtures. Waste would have been carried out of the pipes into a
primitive septic system.
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Imagine what life would be like without a modern plumbing system. How
would you cope without running water or flushing toilets? Water is the
most essential nutrient for life on earth; it forms the basis of a
healthy diet and lifestyle. The world today with its large, high-density
population would not sustain life as we know without a modern plumbing
system that provides clean drinking water and sewage systems that remove
contaminated used water.
The past is replete with historical events that show the successes
and failures of plumbing. One of the most recent examples is the New
Zealand earthquake in Christchurch in February 2011. Both water and
sewage systems were destroyed. The people were told not to drink, shower
or use the toilets due to the lack and quality of a water supply. Many
had to resort to digging a hole in the backyard to deposit sewage.
modern plumbing systems are much more up to date than those in ancient
times, the New Zealand earthquake can still serve as a learning
experience on how to develop better plumbing systems.
the historical events of plumbing, we are less likely to repeat the
errors, unsafe designs or installations that lead to the uncontrollable
fires and plagues of the past. Check out our chronological list of the
top 27 most influential historical events that shaped today’s plumbing
systems! It covers achievements from ancient through modern times. Feel
free to add your events to the list. We’d love to read your comments
too!Ancient plumbing systems date back to 4,000 B.C.
1. Archaeologists discovered copper water pipes in the palace ruins of the Indus River Valley in India. (4,000 to 3,000 B.C.)
Egyptians developed copper pipes that were used to build elaborate
bathrooms inside the pyramids and intricate irrigation and sewage systems. (2500 B.C.)
3. “The Code of Hammurabi,” written by Hammurabi, the 6
king of Old Babylon, was the first known code of ancient Babylon. One
of the clauses of the code called for people to be put to death if a
house that was not constructed properly fell and killed an owner. (1700
4. Rainwater cisterns were developed on the island of Crete which
allowed for storage of rainwater until it was needed for drinking,
washing, bathing and cooking uses. (1500 B.C.)
5. Archeologists discovered the remains of an ancient plumbing system (at
least 3,000 years old) on the island of Crete at the site of an ancient
palace of Knossos. This ancient plumbing system included a bathtub made
out of hard pottery that looked similar to the shape of a cast-iron
bathtub of late 19-Century America. There was also evidence of a water closet with a seat and crude flushing device. (1000 B.C.)
6. The Romans were some of the most advanced in ancient plumbing
systems. Out of the Roman Empire aqueducts were developed as well as
underground sewer systems, public and private baths, lead and bronze
water piping systems, and marble fixtures with gold and silver fittings.
The Romans utilized lead pipes, which at the time made vast
improvements in sanitary conditions. (500 B.C. to A.D. 455)
the first time, iron pipe was installed in Siegerland, Germany. German
craftsmen had learned how to build fires hot enough to melt iron and
pour it into castings to make hollow pipe. (1455)
8. Sir John Harington, godson to Queen Elizabeth, invented the first flushing water closet. (1596)
In Versailles, France, King Louis XIV ordered construction of a
cast-iron main plumbing line. This was to carry water about 15 miles
from a pumping station to the palace fountains and surrounding area.
10. The castles of the 17 Century housed privies. Unfortunately, the plumbing systems dumped directly into the surrounding moats. (1600 to 1700)
11. The first underground sewer was installed in 1728. This came
about after health officials in New York responded to complaints about
the smell of open sewers.
12. The first public water main was
installed under New York streets in 1830. Numerous fires had
demonstrated the need for an adequate and available supply of water for
13. Drainage piping systems were installed into
buildings. These systems helped convey sewage away from the buildings to
a suitable disposal terminal. (1845 to 1850)
14. The National Public Health Act was passed in 1848. Most of the world has adopted this model plumbing code.
The first water heaters were developed in private homes and small
buildings in the 1870s. Circulation pipes were installed between
water-heating units and hot water storage tanks so as to make
pressurized hot water available in volume.
16. The Venting Theory was proved. By connecting a vent pipe to the
drain at the trap outlet, the air pressure was kept the same. This
method prevented objectionable odors and sewer gases from escaping at
fixture waste outlets. (1874)
17. In 1890 Robert Manning invented the “Manning Formula,” which allows engineers to calculate flow in sloping drains.
Laws were passed in many areas of the country requiring plumbing
systems be installed with minimum number of fixtures. (1900s)Modern plumbing systems feature invention of water closet
The water closet was invented from 1900 to 1932. The U.S. Patent Office
received applications for 350 new water closet designs, including the
designs of Charles Neff and Robert Frame. These men were the first to
produce a siphoning water closet that would become standard in the
20 The Building Officials and Code Administrators
(BOCA) organization was formed in 1915. This was the first attempt to
coordinate building codes on a national level.
Warren Harding appointed Herbert Hoover, a prominent engineer, as
Secretary of Commerce in 1921. Hoover started the Materials and
Structures division of the National Bureau of Standards (now known as
The National Institute of Standards and Technology or NIST).
Dr. Roy B. Hunter, who was appointed to head the plumbing division of
the National Bureau of Standards, dedicated his talents to the research
of plumbing systems in an effort to standardize regulations in the
United States. Current plumbing codes are based on his research. (1930s
23. The first plumbing code was published (1928) and
nicknamed the “Hoover Code,” after Herbert Hoover’s efforts to instigate
24. Due to a shortage of copper, non-metallic, plastic piping was introduced into use for modern plumbing systems in 1966.
Public restrooms required to be accessible to physically handicapped
In 1961 all buildings and facilities, including plumbing, were required
to be accessible to, and functional, for the physically handicapped.
In 1990 President George H. W. Bush signed the Americans with
Disabilities Act (ADA).
26. Legislation was adopted as part of the Energy Efficiency Act in
the 1980s and later amended with the Energy Policy Act of 1992 to
restrict water flow rates in plumbing fixtures.
27. In 2003, the
three model building code agencies, the Building Officials and Code
Administrators International (BOCA), the Southern Building Code Congress
International (SBCCI) and the International Conference of Building
Officials (ICBO), formed one single organization, the International Code
Their is definitely more influential and historical events that helped shaped modern plumbing systems