History of Plumbing: Some Info from Cecilton

Thursday, November 10th, 2011

Everyone in Cecilton knows that water runs downhill, right? That’s because of gravity. And that simple theory was the key milestone in the history of plumbing. As far back as the days of the Roman Empire, people were using gravity to move water from its source to where it was used. There were no systems of piping back then and no way to pressurize a means of transporting water from one location to another.

The beauty of the gravity movement was how the Roman engineers achieved it – through the use of aqueducts. These aqueducts carried water from higher elevations in mountains to the cities below. Some of them were outdoor architectural marvels but most of the water was carried through underground tunnels. The gravity that carried the water was achieved by a slight pitch in the tunnel or aqueduct. It is estimated that as much as 300 million gallons of water found its way into Romeevery day.

The fall of the Roman Empire brought the demise of this elaborate system but other plumbing marvels followed in the decades and centuries to come.

The means of transporting water changed from aqueducts and tunnels to something that was very abundant in the early stages of developing countries like the United States – namely wood. Hollowed out logs were the forefathers of modern iron pipes. These wooden pipe systems were found in the northeastern U.S. in the 1800s. Unfortunately, wood exposed to water soon deteriorated and rotted – and also left a bad taste to the water.

Iron and steel water pipes began to show up in the late 1800s in the U.S. These pipes were characterized by their heavy weight. The next generation of piping was made from copper. This material was introduced in the early 1900s and became commonly used by the middle of the century. Eventually, plastic was used to replace copper and steel. It is less expensive and just as durable.

Of course, any type of indoor plumbing was deemed a luxury for the “common” homeowner in the 1800’s and 1900’s. Indoor plumbing was not a standard and as late as the 1940s and 50s, many homes still utilized the good old fashioned outhouses as toilet facilities. That happened, in part, because towns did not have central water pumping and treatment facilities – and there were no city sewer lines to tap into. And the cost of indoor plumbing was out of some household budgets.

Today, what we take for granted in our array of indoor fixtures and appliances would have been deemed a luxury fitting to kings and queens by our ancestors.

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