A Brief History of Indoor Plumbing Technology

A Brief History of Indoor Plumbing Technology

These days, indoor plumbing is about as normal a part of life as the roof overhead. Flushing toilets, running water from taps and fountains, and so much more are all so commonplace that the concept of having to go to a well to get water seems like something resigned to history books. However it hasn’t always been that way. In fact, the history of indoor plumbing is about as long as we have written historical records.

To see how we’ve gotten this far, we’re going to discuss an extremely brief and abbreviated history of indoor plumbing and some of the major advancements that allow us to live as comfortably as we do today.

Ancient Plumbing Technology

In ancient times, human civilizations only sprang up around sources of clean, natural water, which is one reason why humans tended to gravitate to living near rivers, lakes, and along coastlines. While this allowed life to happen, people needed to venture out to collect water, usually by the bucket load in order to have water in their homes.

However, civilization expanded further with the digging of the first permanent water wells back as far as 6500 BC. Around 4000 BC ancient Babylonians introduced clay pipes to the world, a technology that is still in use in some places around the world! Likewise, some of these ancient civilizations advanced tremendously over the years, and in fact some houses as old as 3000 BC have been found with primitive wastewater and freshwater systems. However this technology was generally only reserved for the wealthiest citizens who could afford the immense construction costs. It would be centuries before indoor plumbing became easily accessible for the masses.

The earliest evidence of public water supply and sanitation comes from the Indus Valley civilization, around 2350 BC. In the city of Lothal, all homes had a private toilet which was connected to a sewage system that either ran to a local body of water or to a cesspit.

Once humanity progressed into the Bronze Age, public plumbing systems were becoming significantly more common. The Roman Empire is perhaps the most well-known example of ancient plumbing, the Cloaca Maxima, which is considered a marvel of ancient engineering and still stands to this day in many places. The Cloaca Maxima is a giant network of aqueducts which transported fresh water to cities around the empire as well as carried wastewater away from them.

The Middle Ages

During the Middle Ages, much of the focus was on the growing sizes of cities and the massive problem of wastewater and sewage. While public sewer and wastewater systems were becoming more common in particularly large cities, they were hardly sanitary and gave of a truly awful stench that you could sometimes smell for miles. In fact, the first closed sewer system was developed as a solution because of this awful smell problem.

However, the 1500s saw an important advancement in sanitation: the flush toilet. Sir John Harrington, a writer, invented one of these devices for Queen Elizabeth I, his godmother. In fact, the slang term “john” sometimes used to describe a toilet, is thought to be the name of the device’s inventor. Flush toilets were also found in the Mayan civilization.

In the early modern era, people began to start to use sewage as fertilizer on a massive scale, and sewage farms began to crop up as far back 1531. As cities began to develop, sewage farms became a leading method for disposing of large volumes of wastewater.

Modern Era

It wasn’t until the Enlightenment Era that engineers began experimenting with the plausible functionality of pumping systems that we saw our first major advancement in water supply and sanitation technology, which up until that point had not advanced too far beyond what had been invented by the Romans.

At this point, modern sewer systems became a priority in major cities, followed soon by water treatment programs which were necessary to stop the spread of waterborne disease such as typhoid and cholera. These treatment programs saw life expectancy increase dramatically in as little as 50 years’ time and propelled us closer to where we are today.

In the 1850s, Chicago and Brooklyn became the first major metropolitan centers in the United States to construct public sewer systems, and Worcester, Massachusetts constructed the first chemical precipitation sewage treatment plant in 1890.

By this time, iron and other metals were also becoming readily available, meaning homes and other buildings could be constructed with durable metal piping that had a much longer lifespan and didn’t carry the risk of lead poisoning. Copper plumbing is a fairly recent advancement, only coming about a few decades ago as a solution for the constant oxidizing and fraying of iron plumbing.

Plastics have opened a whole new world of plumbing technology, allowing us to have PVC piping, trenchless pipe repairs, and so much more.

If you need your plumbing repaired or serviced, call the Bartlett plumbers from Smith’s Plumbing Services today at (901) 290-1110!
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