Once upon a time, a mere hole in the ground was often used as a sewage system – and, in some parts of the world, still is. With that in mind, the significance of plumbing innovations should not be overlooked. The earliest plumbing systems, starting in 4,000 B.C., have vastly evolved over the years to what we now know today as modern plumbing. Let’s take a look.
4,000 B.C. – A.D. 455
· As far back as 4,000 B.C., copper water pipes were being used in India. Archaeologists found them in the palace ruins near the Indus River Valley…so, at least, the royals enjoyed decent plumbing.
· About a century later, in 2,500 B.C., the sewage and irrigation systems of the Egyptians were even more complex. Copper pipes, again, were used to link the sewage systems of extravagant bathrooms within the pyramids.
· Another century later, in 1,500 B.C., the island of Crete used rainwater cisterns to store rainwater for cooking, drinking, and washing. And 500 years later, a plumbing system was developed in the palace of Knossos, complete with a water closet, a toilet seat with a flushing mechanism, and a hard pottery bathtub.
· Ancient Rome is known to have one of the most advanced plumbing systems, which was developed between 500 B.C. and A.D. 455. The system included underground sewage, bronze and lead water piping, public and private water closets, all thanks to the innovative aqueducts of the Roman Empire. The lead piping improved sanitary conditions across the empire.
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· In 1596, the first flushing water closet was invented by Queen Elizabeth’s godson, Sir John Harington. But not all sewage systems were advanced: 17th century castles held privies with sewage systems that dumped into the castles’ moats byway of their plumbing systems.
· In response to resident complaints about the stench of open-air sewers, New York health officials installed the first underground sewer in 1728. And, in 1830, the first public water main was installed when the city realized their supply of water to fight fires was inadequate.
· In 1850, buildings were fit with drainage pipe systems, which delivered sewage to proper disposal areas. Around the same time, the National Public Health Act was passed, which is a model plumbing code most of the international community has adopted.
· Water heaters were introduced into private homes in the 1870s, with hot water storage tanks and water-heating units being connected by circulation pipes, creating better access to pressurized hot water.
· In 1874, the Venting Theory prevented sewer gases and odors from being emitted at waste outlets by introducing a vent pipe near the trap outlet drain.
· From 1900-1932, water closet inventions were submitted to the U.S. Patent Office, with a winning design from Robert Frame and Charles Neff setting the standard for U.S. water closets thereafter.
· In 1966, plastic piping was used in lieu of copper, due to a copper shortage.
· The 1993 Energy Policy Act required that water flow rates be restricted in plumbing fixtures.
By looking at a historical timeline of plumbing innovations, the plagues, uncontrolled fires and dangerous installations and infrastructure of the past can be avoided. Proper plumbing is not only be advantageous to health and personal hygiene, but to societal infrastructure, as a whole.