It’s hard to imagine life without modern plumbing. It’s rather unthinkable to go even a day without water running in our taps or our toilets flushing properly. Let’s put aside our personal conveniences and think for a second — how would our cities and urban infrastructure operate without the sanitation and sewerage systems we have today?
Well, plumbing wasn’t always like we know it today. It has evolved over several centuries and taken various forms. Major innovations and historical events have had a deep impact on how modern-day plumbing systems have shaped up. Let’s give you a peek into the history and evolution of plumbing.
The ancient times:
- At the beginning of early human settlements, the main recourse of plumbing and sewer systems was nature, of course. Rivers, oceans and other natural water bodies were the main source of water for drinking, irrigation, transport and yes, sewerage.
- The earliest proof of a well-formed sanitation system is found in the ruins of Indus valley civilisation at 4000-3500BC. Archaeologists have discovered both indoor (private) and public baths at the sites of Harappa, Mohenjo-Daro, and Lothal with properly designed drains, wells, aqueducts, water supply lines and waste water removal systems. Wood, stones and copper were the main raw materials used for these.
- Around the same time, pipes made of baked clay (terra-cotta) were used in Babylon civilisation for both plumbing and sewer pipes. Structures resembling rainwater harvesting systems are also found in the ruins.
- Egyptians made copper pipes and other bathroom facilities inside pyramids along with advanced plumbing pipes to channel river water for irrigation etc. throughout the city.
- Ancient Chinese used bamboo for carrying water and other fluids along distance plumbing and sewerage pipes.
- The illustrious Greek and Roman civilisations invented various complex plumbing and sewer systems including lead pipes, with the famous Roman baths being a milestone. Some say the Crete people invented the first flushing toilets.
The middle ages:
- The mediaeval world history shows a rather decline in plumbing and public sanitation around the world.
- Sir John Harrington invented the first modern flushing toilet for his godmother – Queen Elizabeth I, in 1596AD.
- King Louis XIV installed a cast-iron pipeline and plumbing system in his palace of Versailles, France in 1664AD. In fact many castles in the 17th century had installed privies in-house.
The modern era:
- A number of inventions and interventions by the city-fathers in USA and Europe started to transform the plumbing industry by leaps and bounds, such as –
- The world’s first underground sewer in New York – 1728
- Philadelphia city introduced cast iron pipes for water transport – 1804
- Invention of English Regency shower – 1810
- First indoor plumbing for guests in Boston hotel – 1829
- England issued the National Public Health Act of 1848 – as a standard for public health and sanitation – a beacon for the world
- The first ceramic flush toilet by Thomas Twyford and use of water heaters indoor – 1870
- Between 1929 and 1954 – designs for toilets and wash basins modernized for better sanitary conditions across Europe and USA
- Amidst all these, plastics entered the realm in around 1940, post WW-II. Since then, our modern world has been extensively using various grades of plastic plumbing and sewer pipes (PVC, UPVC, PET etc.) along with copper, iron, concrete etc.
So that was a timeline tracing the history of plumbing. Thanks to the progress of science and technology, today we enjoy plumbing systems as fantastic amenities of modern life.