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History Lesson: Plumbing in America

In honor of the Fourth of July, this article will briefly review how plumbing has evolved in the United States of America.

Early settlers in the U.S. copied the Native Americans and used running water or secluded areas to dispose of waste. Unlike the crowded cities of Europe, America had plenty of space to ditch your excrement.

When cities did begin to rise up, settlers followed the European tradition of throwing waste and garbage out onto the street. The earliest garbage collectors were wild animals who would take the waste away.

The early 1800s saw the outhouse, called a “privy,” replace the chamber pot as the main means of bathroom use. But they were little more than a hole in the ground surrounded by four walls.

In 1829 the Tremont Hotel in Boston became the first hotel with indoor plumbing. It would be the pillar for first-class living in America.

Early pipes were made from hollow wood, which was a bountiful resource in early colonial times. This material was obviously not ideal for the job- it would often rot, sag, get infest with bugs, and taste woody. These pipes were crucial for firefighters, as a house fire could quickly spread throughout a neighborhood.

In 1804, Philadelphia became the first city in the world to use cast iron piping, developing one of the largest and most complex plumbing systems in existence.

Chicago made world news in 1869 with its revolutionary design for a twin-tunnel system that drew water from Lake Michigan. The tower survived the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 and still stands today, although greatly modernized.

Declaration of Independence signer Benjamin Franklin is rumored to be the first person to import a bathtub to America. The simple design was made of sheet copper, shaped like a shoe, and exported from France.

Near the end of the 19th century, America toilets began to equal, and even surpass, European models. They were far more sanitary and featured primitive flushing systems. The next challenge was convincing people to buy American toilets instead of the European products. This was accomplished by decorating the bowls with hand-painted designs and etchings.

Further developments included the shift to copper piping and later plastic piping, the increased understanding of germs and sanitation, and the expansion of public facilities to match the continued growth of building s and cities in America.

Hope this was an informative History Lesson!