This is our version of The History of Plumbing and how plumbing, drains, toilets, bath tubs, sinks, and all related items and kitchen / bathroom appliances came to be. If you are curious and would like to learn more, feel free to scroll down and read through the entire History of Plumbing. It's an interesting read. If you have a plumbing emergency or problem and would like to speak to a certified plumber, call us 24 hours a day - 760-477-2222.
Plumbing has a great and ancient heritage. It can trace its history back to the very early days of each of the great civilizations. In fact, these early civilizations would most likely never have developed without the help of their plumbers.
There is disagreement over who the inventor of the modern flush toilet was, and flushing out the truth is not easy. Many give credit to Thomas Crapper (1837-1910), an English sanitary engineer, for inventing the valve and siphon and the water closet, both devices make our modern toilets possible. Then there are others who maintain that the inventor was a random Minoan in ancient Crete who lived about 4,000 years ago. There are also those who give the credit to Alexander Cumming who patented a specific type of flushing device in 1775. But it was none of these, they just had parts in the final outcome of the toilet.
The technical challenges in flush toilets were the flush mechanism and a method of prevent smells passing from the drain. Solving these problems took until the late 19th century.
The first flush toilet or water-closet was invented by Sir John Harrington in 1596. Harrington invented both a valve at the bottom of the water tank, and a wash-down system. However it was not widely adopted because there was no supply of running water to flush it.
Alexander Cumming then invented the 'S'-shaped trap in 1775. It used standing water to seal the outlet of the bowl, preventing the escape of foul air from the sewer, and used a sliding valve.
In 1777, Samuel Prosser invented and patented the 'plunger closet'. The plunger released the waste and also sealed the soil pipe.
Joseph Bramah invented a hinged valve or 'crank valve' in 1778. This sealed the bottom of the bowl. He also devised a float valve system for the cistern.
Early toilet bowls were painted cast iron and had no flange on the rim. These discharged into a separate chamber and then into the cess-pit or sewer. The metal rusted and the seals between the components leaked. Because the valve was unreliable, there had to be an overflow. Although the parts were in a wooden case, the toilet did smell.
The 'U-bend', or the water-sealed trap, was invented in 1782. This could replace the outlet valve. Because it could not jam, it did not need an overflow.
In 1852, JG Jennings invented the wash-out design with a shallow pan emptying into an S-trap. He popularised public lavatories by installing them in the Crystal Palace for the Great Exhibition of 1851; over 827,000 people paid to use them.
By 1870, Thomas Twyford's improved version of the Bramah contained no metal parts, and in 1885 he created the one-piece 'wash-out' toilet, called the 'Unitas'. This used a 'P'-shaped trap. In 1885, he created the first valveless toilet made of china.
Other makers at this stage included Josiah Wedgwood, Thomas Crapper and John Shanks.
During the 1880s Thomas Crapper invented the siphonic system for emptying the cistern. This avoided the problem of leaks common with the earlier floating valve system.
The next development combined the water in the bowl with that in the trap, creating the 'wash-down' design we know today. Further enhancements improved the siphon action of the flush so that heavier waste was washed out. The first British toilet with this design was made at the Beaufort Works in Chelsea, London in 1886.
Whereas modern toilets are made from now vitreous china clay, older models were made in the same way as tiles; from pressed clay. This made porcelain in an off-white colour and the glaze tended to craze
The Ancient Times of Plumbing
The ancient Egyptians were not only master builders (refer to the amazing Egyptian Pyramids and intricate temples) - they were also master plumbers. Those same great pyramids contain elaborate bathrooms for the dead to use on their transcendent journey from one life to another life. These great craftsmen also knew how to coppersmith - which is still in use today.
The great rival civilization from the same period was Babylonia. Here the plumbers participated in developing one of the great wonders of the world - the "Hanging Gardens of Babylon".
A much smaller civilization was developing about the same time on the island of Crete in the Mediterranean Sea. In the palace of King Minos was found the world's earliest "flushing" toilet. Unfortunately, this civilization was devastated and lost for centuries by a cataclysmic earthquake.
It was the ancient Romans who had the greatest impact on the development of plumbing and everything associated with it. In fact, the word "plumber" comes from the Latin word for lead - "plumbus" - which was used extensively as a material for plumbing. Romans built great sewers (one of which, the Cloaca Maxima, is still in use today) and stupendous aqua ducts which brought water from the mountains into the heart of Rome. They loved their public baths, with their heated water and warm air, and the largest of them was able to seat over 3,000 people. Much of this plumbing was preserved in the lava-covered cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum.
Most of the knowledge about water and sewerage was lost with the fall of the Roman Empire, and the following centuries saw frequent outbreaks of epidemics such as the Black Plague which at their peak killed as many as a third of the people of Europe.
It was only in the 19th century that people came to understand the importance of clean water and proper sanitation. This was partly the result of advances in medical science. But it was also partly due to the epidemics (such as cholera) that spread throughout the world and killed so many. At last the profession of plumbing was once again to receive the recognition that it was due.
The Roman Empire was the most dominant society the world had ever seen until modern times. Cecil B. De Mille movies have made us conscious of their ruthless military prowess, but the Romans also excelled like nobody before in technology and social organization. And for all the blood they shed, ancient Rome was generous in spreading its civilized ways among the peoples it conquered. Their exported plumbing systems probably saved more lives than the Roman legions slaughtered. The fabled Roman baths helped spread a culture of cleanliness throughout their empire, at least until near the end when those former community recreation centers degenerated into brothels.
The Dark Ages of Plumbing and Plumbers
Rot from within combined with barbarian hordes from the East put an end to Rome's achievements. This time, there were no worthy successors to carry on civilization's legacy. The warriors who laid waste to Rome were nomads and plunderers who had no appreciation for clean running water and sanitary waste disposal. The aptly named Dark Ages ensued, leading to 1,000 years of unrelenting ignorance, disease and squalor.
What tiny remnants of civilization remained were harbored mainly in monasteries, as Christianity took hold throughout the Western world. Some of the medieval monks enjoyed a semblance of sanitation, with privies set atop streams that would naturally convey away their waste even as the incoming water provided for their drinking and cooking needs. But for the most part, their lives were only a little better than the miserable lot of the common man, who faced long odds against acquiring gray hair. The early Christians rejected all aspects of Roman culture-an understandable impulse in light of their ghastly fate as so many lion lunches. The debauchery associated with Roman baths in the latter stages of the Empire helped propel them toward the view that life's purpose was to purify the soul rather than the body. Early Christian tracts were filled with admonishment against physical comfort. One fourth-century pilgrim to Jerusalem was recorded as bragging that she had not washed her face in 18 years so as not to disturb the holy water that had been splashed upon it at baptism.
These attitudes prevailed throughout the millennium lasting from about the fifth through 15th centuries. As Western civilization stagnated, so did plumbing. Even kings and queens routinely died from typhoid and dysentery. Moats were open cesspools that served well to deter enemies, but imagine living in one of those castles on a hot summer day.
The Slow Recovery for Plumbing
Gutenberg's printing press enabled knowledge to spread beyond monastery walls, leading to the Renaissance, which gave Western civilization something to be proud of once again. But the intense blossoming of the arts in the 15th and 16th centuries was not matched by progress in plumbing.
The earliest known flushing toilet of modern times has been attributed to Sir John Harington, a godson of Queen Elizabeth I who is said to have put the device in one of her castles as well as his own home around 1595. It was a crude contraption that inspired jokes and which the Queen reportedly declined to use. He never made another one. (No, Thomas Crapper did not invent the toilet. He was a successful artisan who lived in the late 19th century and practiced plumbing among other crafts, but most of what you've heard about him is myth.) The earliest patent for a flush toilet belonged to another Englishman, Alexander Cumming, in 1775. Improvements were made on these devices over the years, but for the next century they remained Rube Goldberg contraptions that didn't work very well and tended to reek from all the waste matter collected in their ill-fitting joints. The Industrial Revolution, triggered by James Watt's harnessing of steam power in the mid-18th century, led to frightful conditions in European and American cities. Waves of peasants, seeking work in the burgeoning factories, crowded together in decrepit tenements without running water or sewage disposal. The rivers upon which most major cities were built became overwhelmed by the volume of waste dumped into them. England's Parliament shut down for a while in 1859 because of the stench from the nearby Thames River. A New York City newspaper in the 1830s had a daily front-page report of neighborhood cholera outbreaks. Virtually every U.S. and European city suffered hideous casualty tolls from waterborne diseases.
By the middle of the 19th century, fancier homes and buildings began to acquire indoor plumbing, but most owners were sorry they did. Toilets were tied to un vented and often poorly sloped drainage systems. Early plumbers were basically metal workers with strong arms who made their own pipe by hand, but they knew nothing of hydraulics or sanitation. The U.S. Census Bureau categorized plumbers and gas fitters in a single category until the 1880s.
"The Age of Plumbing"
Then something profound happened that led, in the 1880s and 1890s, to a flourishing of the plumbing industry into the grand enterprise it is today.
Throughout the last decade and a half, a steady stream of press releases have crossed my desk celebrating the 100th anniversary of industry companies and trade groups. The PHCC organization began as the National Association of Master Plumbers in 1883. The forerunner of the Mechanical Contractors Association of America formed in 1889, as did the United Association plumbers union. ASSE traces its origin to around the turn of the century. Numerous plumbing manufacturers started up in the 1880s and 1890s, quite a few of which are still in business. What set off this explosion? I think more than anything else it was the discovery and promulgation of correct venting procedures. Venting had been known for decades, but primitive plumbers tended to do it on a hit-and-miss, trial-and-error basis. There was no systematic guide as to sizing and placement of vents. Correct venting and drainage procedures did not become widespread knowledge until the 1870s. Particularly important was the 1876 publication of George Waring's landmark book, The Sanitary Drainage of Houses and Towns, along with various other books and articles explaining how to correctly design plumbing systems that worked the way they were supposed to. And thus began the good life as we know it today. Famed physician-writer, the late Dr. Lewis Thomas, former Chancellor of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, wrote in 1984: "There is no question that our health has improved spectacularly in the past century...One thing seems certain: It did not happen because of medicine, or medical science or even the presence of doctors.
Much of the credit should go to the plumbers and engineers of the Western world. The contamination of drinking water by human feces was at one time the single greatest cause of human disease and death for us; it remains so, along with starvation and malaria, for the Third World type Countries. Typhoid fever, cholera and dysentery were the chief threats to survival in the early years of the 19th century, mainly in New York City and highly crowded and populated areas, and when the plumbers and sanitary engineers had done their work in the construction of our cities these diseases began to vanish.
Common components of a plumbing or central-heating system using water-circulation include:
Engineers in the United Kingdom and in other parts of Europe commonly combine the needs of room heating with hot-water heating and storage. These systems occur less commonly in the USA. In this case, the heated water in a sealed system flows through a heat exchanger in a hot-water tank or hot-water cylinder where it heats water from the normal water supply before that water gets fed to hot-water outlets in the house. These outlets may service hot-water taps or appliances such as washing machines or dishwashers.
When you read this it gives you a new found respect for your local plumbers. They deserve more respect than you think. Thanks for reading our 1-800-Anytyme's version of the History of Plumbing. Below are some links to more information about Plumbing and certain other things.
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