The History of Plumbing: Most Important Dates and Innovations

Most of us can’t imagine what life would be like without indoor plumbing. However, it’s actually a relatively new innovation for much of the world (and still isn’t widely available in some areas.) On the path to developing indoor plumbing, there have been a number of achievement that have shaped and changed us as a society. Here are some of the most important and how they affected our way of life.

4000-3000 B.C. It was discovered by archaeologists that copper pipes were used as early as 4000 B.C. in the Indus River valley in India. The pipes seemed to be limited to use in palaces, but this early example of modern plumbing was quite a discovery.

2500 B.C.  Copper pipes made it to the masses in Egypt by this time and were used to build irrigation and sewage systems as well as sophisticated bathrooms inside the pyramids.

1000 B.C.  The island of Crete was getting in on the plumbing action as early as 1000 B.C. Archeologists discovered ancient plumbing systems from this time, including bathtubs and an indoor bathroom complete with seat and flushing device.

500 B.C. to A.D. 455  The ancient Romans were rockin’ and rollin’ by this time with sophisticated plumbing systems that included public and private baths, water pipes, and underground sewer systems.

1596  The first recorded flushing device was actually not invented until 1596, though it’s unclear if this was just due to poorly kept records from earlier times. The inventor was Sir John Harrington, godson to Queen Elizabeth.

1664  France’s King Louis XIV wanted running water in fountains and bathrooms in his castle, so he had a cast-iron plumbing line created. This line could carry water from a plumbing station approximately 15 miles away.

1728  The smell of open sewers was a problem for the United States during the 1700s and prompted the first underground sewer to be installed in 1728.

1830  It took another hundred years for America to make another plumbing leap forward, this one based on a lack of water for fighting frequent fires. The first public water main was installed under the streets of New York to address this issue.

1848  Legislation finally stepped in and the National Public Health Awareness Act was passed in the U.K. in 1848. This set rules for sewers, clean drinking water, and drainage and versions of it were quickly adopted by other countries with similar issues.

1870s  Warm water (without first heating it) became a reality for many private home in the 1870s when water heaters, hot water tanks, and circulating pipes were installed.

1900s  America benefited from legislation that required plumbing systems be installed in numerous establishments and meet certain standards, such as a minimum number of fixtures.

1915  Building codes were all over the place prior to 1915. When the Building Officials and Code Administration was formed during this time, an effort was made to coordinate them on a national level.

1930-1940s  The ‘30s and ‘40s were big years for the U.S. when Dr. Roy B. Hunter, the head of the National Bureau of Standards plumbing division, standardized regulations in the U.S. Current plumbing codes are still based on his work.

1966  Plastic took center stage in the ‘60s due to a shortage of copper. These and other non-metallic piping materials are still used to this day.

1990  Bathrooms were revolutionized once again in 1990 when President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act. This required facilities to include plumbing that was accessible to those with disabilities.

We’ve come a long way on our plumbing journey to the point where you and your family enjoy unlimited running, warm water in your homes and businesses. If for some reason your plumbing is not keeping up with your needs, give the experts at ASAP a shout so we can help!

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