Since ancient times to the modern day, the need for fresh water has driven spectacular feats of civic engineering.
Plumbing has been a part of cities ever since their earliest days, over 8,000 years ago. Clean water is essential to city life and agriculture alike, and plumbing allows both to flourish. Modern cities still rely on ancient inventions to ensure they operate at peak efficiency.
Here are nine milestones in plumbing history from the earliest cities to today sure to amaze you.
The Minoans, an ancient civilization on the Mediterranean island of Crete, were the first civilization to use plumbing. Underground clay pipes were used to distribute clean water, and take out waste water. There were even storm sewage canals for overflow when there was heavy rain. The clay pipes even had what we might think as modern developments: socket joints, tapered sections to prevent the accumulation of sediment, and even the earliest known flushing toilet, that used water held in cisterns
The Roman Empire
Many civilizations had plumbing, from China to India, but the Roman Empire is the most famous for its aqueducts. Aqueducts transported clean water from mountain sources, sometimes hundreds of miles away, and delivered it to public fountains for people to use for drinking and bathing water.
Romans were also famous for their extensive use of public baths and many included large restrooms where running water carried away waste.
China’s the forbidden city
China has always had to deal with torrential rains and flooding, and the ancient Chinese took that in account when building the now 600 year old Forbidden City. Special plumbing and an ancient drainage system have helped to keep the Forbidden City flood-free for hundreds of years. It still works today!
In 2016, the drainage system helped keep the Forbidden City from shutting down during a storm, and allowing 30,000 visitors entry.
Invention of S, T-Traps
The invention of the S-bend is t. It was invented by Alexander Cummings in 1775. The modern U-bend was developed by Thomas Crapper in 1880. These traps kept a small amount of water in the pipe, thus blocking the smell of sewage from venting out of a toilet. Without this invention sinks, toilets, and anything else connected to a sewage line would stink like a sewer!
Raising of Chicago
One of the greatest feats of modern civic engineering is the Raising of Chicago. Taking place during the 1850’s to 1860’s engineers raised the level of central Chicago. Streets, sidewalks and buildings were physically raised on hydraulic jacks so that a citywide sewage system could be installed. Workers laid the drains, refinished roads and raised most buildings to the new grade.
As shops were raised on Lake Street, people would come and go, still doing their shopping despite the building being raised over four feet. Such an engineering marvel solved the many public health problems the standing water was causing in Chicago.
The development of the modern flush toilet began in the 19th century with the development of underground sewer systems designed to carry away waste instead of relying on cesspools. By 1770 the water closet began to resemble modern toilets: they had an overhead cistern, s-bends, soil pipes and valves.
However, water closets only moved in the home around 1850, generally eclipsing the use of chamber pots. Flush toilets however made an advance with William Elvis Sloan’s invention of the Flushometer in 1906 which used pressurized water directly from the supply line for faster recycle time between flushes.
Germ Theory & Sand Filters
In the 19th century diseases like cholera and typhoid affected numerous American cities. These fast-growing cities lacked sewers and relied on wells, which were often contaminated for the city’s water supply. Some cities built centralized water supply systems, but they only provided raw river water that lacked treatment. Germ theory was still hotly debated, but as time when on the need for proper filtration and treatment was made evident.
In 1854, John Snow, a British physician, demonstrated that cholera was spreading through contaminated water. As a result, cities began to treat all water with sand filters and chlorine before distributing it to the public.
Los Angeles 1905
Another major milestone in plumbing history is the development of the Los Angeles Aqueduct. This aqueduct brought water from the Owens Valley. It began in 1905, with over 2600 men on payroll the first year, peaking at 6,060 men in May 1909. The aqueduct was originally constructed with six storage reservoirs and began three and a half miles north of Black Rock Springs, diverting the Owens River into an unlined canal to begin a 233 mile journey to the Lower San Fernando Reservoir.
The Aqueduct uses gravity alone to move the water, while generating electricity, making it cost-efficient to operate. Sadly, the construction of the Los Angeles Aqueduct eliminated all agriculture in the Owens Valley, and devastated the ecosystem.
These amazing events from history demonstrate that people have been reliant on plumbing since the very first cities. You can undertake your own epic feat of civic engineering, or perhaps just upgrade the bathroom with supplies from Glendale Plumbing and Fire Supply. GPFS has 7 different locations, including Plumbing Supply Store in Los Angeles, Glendale, Sun Valley, Orange County, Montebello, San Diego, and Dallas, TX. With the largest plumbing and fire supply in Southern California, you are sure to find everything you need for your next big project at gpfsupply.com.