The Origin of Plumbing Pipes- Some Nifty Facts

History of Plumbing

Water is critical to our survival, and without the invention of plumbing, it would be a heck of a lot more difficult to gain access to it. Here are some answers to a few plumbing questions, along with several interesting facts outlining the progress we made in the early years of the water system.

Where did plumbing first originate?

During ancient times, the Greeks, Romans, Persians, Indians and Chinese developed innovative ways to irrigate their crops, provide access to public baths, and separate wastewater from clean water to reduce outbreaks and diseases and death.

What were plumbing pipes made of in the Middle Ages?

It is believed that the first plumbing pipes discovered were made of baked clay and straw.  Later, the Egyptians developed copper pipes (still used in many situations today).  Wells were dug, many as deep as 300 feet. The Romans built channels to carry water from the mountains to the city and could be distributed underground with lead lines.

Who invented the first flushable toilet?

John Harington gave Queen Elizabeth I a very practical gift – the first flushable toilet. Although it was a wonderful product, she was always afraid to use it because it made creepy water-rushing sounds.

U.S. Plumbing History Facts

  • Boston pioneered the first water system in the mid-1600’s.
  • Hemlock logs were used as plumbing pipes in the 1700s Hemlock logs were bored out and used as water pipes, mid-1700’s and used for water and sewer conveyance.
  • Philadelphia was the first to develop a safe water supply in 1815. They used steam turbines to take water from the Schuykill River to to Centre Square. “The wooden plumbing supplied timber-tasting water to residents who could either fill their buckets for free at a public standpipe or pay $5 a year to connect directly to faucets in their yards or kitchens. The logs served for two decades until the city replaced them with 12-inch, cast-iron pipes in 1831,” according to Adam Levine, resident historian at the Philadelphia Water Department.
  • In 1830, New York City installed the first public water main, which provided the water supply needed to put out fires around the city.
  • In 1833, the White House had running water on the first floor of the building only.
  • In 1856, the first sewer system was built in Chicago because waste was being dumped into Lake Michigan (which was also where the city got it’s drinking water), which caused a deadly outbreak and claimed nearly 75,000 lives.

Today we don’t even think about where water comes from and how it manages to come to us through our faucets and showers, but when there’s an issue we realize how important it is to us!  Imagine having to pump your water from a well pump in your backyard or worry that your water source is contaminated. We are lucky to live in modern times!