We take plumbing for granted these days. Virtually every home has numerous faucets that spout hot or cold water on demand. And while the world of plumbing has a long and (believe it or not) fascinating history, plumbing as we know is a relatively new development. But the first flush toilets actually date back to the 18th century BCE on the Greccian isle of Crete.
The History of Plumbing
The Aqueducts of Ancient Rome ~ 300 BCE
Historians often credit the Roman Empire with the invention of plumbing. Their incredible aqueducts supplied water for the distant towns, decorative fountains, and even private homes. And while these marvels of engineering from the third century BCE were far and away the most sophisticated examples of plumbing at the time, they were hardly the first.
The word plumbing actually comes from the Latin, “plumbus” which means “lead.” The Roman water systems relied on lead and clay pipes to transport running water to the people. We’ve since learned of the dangers of lead piping. But it’s unlikely we’ll update our language to reflect that any time soon.
Crete, Home of the First Flush ~ 1800 BCE
The Palace at Knossos was home to the first flushing toilet known to man. Conduits built into the walls allowed the royals to flush away their waste using water from cisterns nearby. The waste washed out through a whole in the floor into stone sewers and likely emptied into the Kairatos River.
Showering in Ancient Greece ~ 100 BCE
Greecian public baths became popular in the sixth century BCE. Originally, these baths were filled with tepid water, until the Laconican people developed hot-air baths. By the first century BCE, showers began popping up. These primitive plumbing systems quickly evolved from a hole in the wall to showers with intricate heads to match the decadence of the time.
Mayan Plumbing ~ 450 CE
In recent years, historians have discovered complex piping systems in the Mayan ruins of Palenque. We can’t say for sure what these stone pipes were used for, but they appear to have used streams as a water supply. The palace under which the pipes ran housed toilet-like features, suggesting that the pressurized water may have been used for sewage systems.
“Modern” Plumbing ~ 1850 CE
Alexander Cummings patented the first flush toilet in 1775. But it wasn’t until Thomas Crapper came along in the mid 1850s that toilets found their ways into the mainstream. Around this time public toilets became available in London’s Crystal Palace, leading to more widespread adoption. And yes, the etymology of the word crap traces back to the famous plumber.
As for showers, William Feetham patented a mechanical model powered by a hand pump in 1767. Nearly 50 years later, the English Regency shower design rained water down from a nozzle onto bathers’ shoulders. But like the toilet, it took until the 1850s for reliable indoor plumbing to make showers more commonplace.
In the United States, Chicago’s Tremont House earned a place in plumbing history as the first hotel hotel with indoor plumbing. Its architect, Isaiah Rogers, advanced the work of his predecessors when designing this state of the art hotel. In today’s day and age, thinking back to the state of public health prior to these advancements is sure to send a shiver down your spine.
Chicago Rising ~ 1850 CE
Like their neighbors across the pond, Chicagoans started to pipe drinking water into their homes in the 1850s. The city’s burgeoning sewer system was designed to combat typhoid fever, cholera, and dysentery epidemics. But to accommodate the system, laborers toileded to raise the city up out of the mud. They lifted the city by an average of four to five feet.
This herculean effort is impressive even by today’s standards. In 1960, a group of engineers and laborers elevated half of a city block all at once. Over five days, six hundred men jacked up a row of buildings estimated to weigh roughly 70 million pounds. The businesses didn’t even bother to close up shop while their street reached four feet and eight inches closer to the sky!
Take a second to think about that. Chicagoans realized that a proper plumbing system was so important that they banded together to move mountains, so to speak. Today, you can solve your plumbing problems with a quick call to your local tradesman and a quick service call whenever it’s most convenient for your schedule.
At Pearson Plumbing, we offer services ranging from fixing cracked outdoor faucets to water heater repair in Freeport and throughout the Rockford area. While we might not be equipped to lift a whole city, we’re more than ready to solve any plumbing, pest or HVAC problems you may have. Call us today and let us know how we can help!