For most of us in the western world, plumbing is so deeply ingrained in our daily lives that we don’t pause to think about it until things break down or require attention. While it may be strange to remember, plumbing hasn’t always been around and it hasn’t always been accessible. When was plumbing first invented, and who discovered a need for it in the first place?
If you’re interested in taking a closer look at this underexamined area of our lives, buckle up. The history of plumbing is likely more fascinating than you’d guess. To learn its origin story and how it unfolded across the globe, read on.
Plumbing history overview
While we have some knowledge of early plumbing, the narrative is far from complete and linear. As we see in any history, information is sparse in places, and some things get lost altogether. What we know for sure is that plumbing similar to what we use today reaches back to ancient civilizations.
Plumbing began in the ancient world and focused primarily on waste removal, as people began to draw connections between their health and hygiene. Here are some highlights of early plumbing:
- It’s believed that sewers were first invented in modern-day Pakistan and India around 3500 B.C. Homes drew water from wells, and waste was sent away to covered drains in the streets.
- Copper pipes were used in ancient Egypt to drain water from baths and remove waste from inhabited areas.
- In ancient Rome, aqueducts were built to bring water from the country into the city. The wealthy were able to run hot water into their baths, and advanced waste disposal systems were developed.
- In ancient Greece, the people developed complex drainage systems that used the grade of the land to move waste away from settled areas with terra-cotta pipes.
As we move out of the Middle Ages, we see tremendous advances in the sophistication of indoor plumbing. Queen Elizabeth I installs a flushing toilet in England in 1596—the first of its kind, invented by her godson Sir John Harrington. This is where the toilet’s nickname, the John, comes from.
In Boston in the mid 1600s, the first city-wide water system is built. The idea was established to give firefighters and homeowners alike access to water anywhere in the city. They primarily used hollow tree trunks to create the vent piping which enabled the system to function. In the late 1790s, a similar network of hallow logs is devised to expand water access across the city, also for the use of firefighters. They would drill holes into the trunk to access water and then plug it again once the fire was extinguished.
With the turn of the 19th century, we see the beginnings of plumbing as we know it. America had its first cast-iron pipe system installed in Philadelphia in the early 1800s, while water supplies start becoming readily available and regulated by the government for public safety in 1815.
The road to plumbing as we know it today is long and full of events we couldn’t cover here. If you’d like to show your home’s plumbing the love it deserves, schedule an appointment with Alvarado Pumping Septic Service to have it serviced today.