We walk into our bathrooms each day, and are greeted with hot water soon after we turn on the correct tap. But personal hygiene and waterworks in general were not always so simple. Many centuries ago, the thought of each home having its own bathroom (or multiple), with readily accessible water within seconds – hot or cold – and a flushable sewerage system would have been astonishing. If you find yourself here after looking up plumber near me in your search bar, you can learn, in just a few minutes of reading, all about the fascinating history of plumbing and how we got to where we are today.
Ancient plumbing systems – 2600 BC
Our journey back in time takes us first to the Indus Valley civilisation, an ancient population located in the north-western regions of South Asia. This “settlement” is the earliest known urban culture of the Indian subcontinent, and thus is an important historical landmark. It is here that we find evidence of the very first system of pipes designed to carry water from one location to another. Archaeologists also discovered building containing set bathing areas featuring drains in the floor, as well as bathrooms boasting septic tanks – similar to the systems we use today. Naturally, they are a far-cry from the modern plumbing technology with which people searching plumber near me hope to find assistance.
The period of pipelines – 2000 BC
At this point in time, ancient China was a growing population of many different civilisations, each with their own distinct culture, language and gods. Many of these locations begun to use hollow bamboo reeds to function as pipes to carry both fresh water and natural gases to and from ancient salt mines. This form of “natural” pipe creation was not only limited to China, and was happening all over the developing world. In clicking on relevant links for your search for a “plumber near me,” you will quickly see how much progress has been made throughout the years.
Babylon water systems – 600 BC
Taking a rather large jump in time, we find ourselves in the celebrated and magnificent city of Babylon, ruled by the renowned King Nebuchadnezzar II. He was noted to be an illustrious ruler who lead the city into great prosperity. In his spacious palace, he had separate bathrooms, all containing elaborate drains and latrines boasting raised seats. These features were connected to a covered sewer system. Documentation offered historians a glimpse into the king’s bathing ritual – which involved slaves pouring water over him.
Arguably the most fascinating water system in Babylon was that which irrigated the famed hanging gardens of Babylon. In order to water the trees that were planted atop 7 metre high walls, mechanical devices known as shadufs (comprising of a fulcrum and a wooden beam sporting a bucket on the end) were used. If you were searching for a “plumber near me” on the matter of irrigation, it is likely you will find a world of difference in methods since the invention of the shaduf.
Plumbing in Greek, Egyptian and Roman civilisations – 1500 BC
Going back in time, by this stage, islands such as Crete in Greece (ruled by Minoan kings) were able to boast of bathrooms with both hot and cold running water. In the Minoan palace of Knossos, ceramic bathtubs were used by royalty, and the allegedly “first” form of the flushing toilet attached to drainage systems was a delight to all who could access it. When it came to pipes at this point in history, the earliest forms were constructed of baked clay and straw. It was the Egyptians who designed and created the first copper pipes. Through a casual search of your “plumber near me” options, you will soon find that pipes nowadays are constructed from galvanised steel.
Unsurprisingly, the Egyptian plumbing process was as impressive as their building skills. In searching for water, the Egyptians had no hesitation to dig wells as deep as 90 metres, and here the water wheel was first born. The “noria wheel” as it was donned, is still used in certain parts of the world today, and its principle is rather simple. As the current of the river turns the wheel, scoops located in certain spots on the wheel are filled with water and transported upwards. Another unsurprising fact is that the ancient Egyptians were the first (and only) group to construct bathrooms for the dead.
Travelling over to Greece once more, it was they who allegedly advanced the art and science of plumbing to a great degree. Cold and hot running water became the standard for many Greeks. They also pioneered shower technology that was used by athletes after the Olympic games. Water moved through overhead pipes and was spouted out from gorgeously sculpted shower heads.
Despite these achievements, many historians argue that it was the Romans who made the greatest accomplishments in plumbing. More than a thousand years ago, the civilisation built water channels that transported water from the formidable mountains into the city, where it was distributed through underground supply lines constructed out of lead. The term “plumbing” in fact, was coined in Rome, coming from the word “plumus” in Latin, which translates into “lead.” The lead pipes in question successfully carried water to the Roman Baths, where it was heated by furnaces and wood.
The baths also featured impressive steam rooms that functioned by pumping hot air through channels located beneath the floors. If you are wondering about waste water, the Romans shamelessly allowed it to run through pipes that were emptied into the Tiber River. The existence of 20-seated public latrines (which were arranged in a circular matter that many of us may find strange today) featured constantly-running water beneath them. Waste was carried into the nearest sewer line. As you can imagine, an exploding population resulted in excessive waste in the water – which undoubtedly lead to the outbreak of various diseases.
Thousands upon thousands of people became ill and lost their lives due to water-borne diseases as a result of drinking polluted water. Before then, sanitary and safe water practices had not truly been considered. After the Greek and Roman empires fell, the advancement of plumbing slowed significantly. It ramped up again in Europe decades later, where evidence of early sanitary methods were found in castles and monasteries in England.
Many of these castles featured a projection with a seat, where waste would be dropped into a river, moat or soil below. Labourers were tasked with scraping and taking away the waste. When it came to washing up, most well-off homes featured a washstand in the bedroom for which a maid was responsible in filling with a jug of hot or cold water. In a practice that we as a society would consider rude today, this water – once used – was simply tossed out of a window. If you were passing beneath during those years, you would hopefully be warned to mind the water with the phrase “gardyloo” which is actually how the term “loo” came to be. The Renaissance period ushered in new theories of thinking that interested people in hygiene, which resulted in steady development towards proper indoor plumbing.
The invention of the first “modern” flushable toilet – 1596
Taking a huge step forward in time, we find ourselves in the year 1596, where Queen Elizabeth the First – like most of the population – bathed only once a month. Before indoor plumbing was a reality, bathtubs had to be filled and emptied by hand. When John Harington, the queen’s godson, invented the first “modern” flush toilet for the queen, all who came to visit her residence at Richmond Palace were quite impressed. Comically, historians uncovered that the queen – although excited about the new plumbing addition – was afraid to use it. She allegedly commented that the fixture produced sounds akin to a thunderstorm each time it was used.
An upgraded model – 1775
Almost 200 years later, a Scottish watchmaker and inventor by the name of Alexander Cumming, was the first Englishman to patent a design of the flush toilet. This design is one that is considered by many to be the forerunner of the modern toilet found in homes all around the world. Naturally, they were a long way off from some of the models that your search of “plumber near me” is likely to showcase.
The National Public Health Act – 1848
Years later, England began to recognise the importance of hygienic water works, as if the many diseases spread in ancient civilisations as a result of contaminated water were not warning enough. The declarations in the act stood as a standard of plumbing codes for the rest of the world to follow. During your search for a “plumber near me,” you should find that reliable plumbing companies adhere to the most recent and noteworthy relevant health acts.
America’s rise to fully functional modern plumbing systems – 1856
Chicago was the home of America’s first integrated sewer system, introduced in response to the rising waste-related issues that were affecting the Chicago River, which emptied into the supplier of the city’s drinking water – Lake Michigan. A health-crisis occurred when the lake’s water became contaminated with polluted water, resulting in a frightening outbreak of water-borne diseases. Nearly seventy-five thousand people lost their lives as a result. Once the significance of these events were realised, plans to install a 45 kilometre canal (dug to connect the Des Plaines River to the Chicago River) were accelerated and put into action. The direction of the river was reversed, thus preventing it from flowing into Lake Michigan.
In the late 1800s, the development of electricity as well as the second Industrial Revolution in America encouraged the spread of modern plumbing. The industry began to thrive. Fully plumbed kitchens, water heaters as well as bathrooms with tubs started being installed in most new homes.
Toilet paper – 1857
Invented by a man named Joseph Gayetty in America, the first commercially available toilet paper was sold in packages of flat sheets. It was labelled “Geyetty’s Medicated Paper” and each sheet bore a watermark of the inventor’s name. One of the early advertisements claimed that the toilet paper was “the greatest necessity of the age!”
The advent of the ceramic flush toilet – 1870
Thomas Twyford, a pottery manufacturer in England, was the first to create a single-piece, flushable ceramic toilet. This year also marked the date of the first water heaters being placed in private homes.
The age of enhanced sanitation – 1911
Responsible for the creation of the first one-piece bathtub was The Kohler Company. This creation laid the foundations of the standard bathtub design, still exhibited in many households and accommodation today. It is probable that many people searching “plumber near me” look to find help installing or maintaining similar bathtubs this very moment. The company also produced wash basins and toilets made of vitreous china, featuring brass fixtures. Between the years of 1929 and 1954, there was a huge drive of manufacturing sanitary ware.
The present, and future, of plumbing
You probably did not expect to be exposed to a brief history of plumbing when you searched “plumber near me,” but it is likely that you have learned something new about the topic, perhaps even a slightly greater appreciation of our modern day plumbing fixtures. Today we have computerised toilets and even remote controlled whirlpools that are becoming increasingly popular – though it is likely to take a few decades for this to become widespread. The history of plumbing is a truly long one indeed, impossible to fit it in its entirety in so few words. However, next time you step into your bathroom or kitchen, consider that the fixtures you are using have been carefully developed over thousands of years.
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