Plumbing in the United States


When you consider that mankind has been around for thousands of years, it’s interesting to note that modern indoor plumbing is still in its infancy. The transition to modern indoor plumbing in the US began with immigrants using chamber pots then transitioning to outhouses and finally bringing plumbing indoors. This transition took much longer than many people know.

The First Known Indoor Water Closet Was Built in Crete.

2,800 years ago, King Minos of Crete had an indoor water closet in his palace. Unfortunately, when the palace was destroyed so were his advancements in plumbing. It took hundreds of years before someone decided to experiment again with indoor water closets. Even then, the odor and water removal required to operate an indoor chamber pot was rudimentary at best and prevented common use.

In America, Thomas Jefferson was the first person to incorporate an indoor toilet in his home. This was basically a pulley system that allowed servants to remove the chamber pot from his home – not the fully functional toilet that we use today.

Technology Restraints and Social Taboos Slowed Progress

Not only was technology lacking in overcoming the problem of indoor plumbing, but the idea of defecating indoors was considered taboo and unsanitary. Sometimes overcoming society’s beliefs and norms is more difficult than solving a technological problem and indoor plumbing certainly faced this issue.

Another factor that prevented advancements in indoor plumbing was the lack of the technology needed to manufacture piping and materials. The earliest plumbing pipes where manufactured by hollowing out logs but, due to the short length of augers, these pipes often had to be joined. These rudimentary joints in the wooden logs were plagued by constant leaks and regular clogging. This caused more frustration and ultimately led to a plumbing revolution.

Removing Waste Was Not the Only Problem

In addition to providing an acceptable sewer system to remove waste, homeowners faced the constant problem of finding a suitable solution to pump water into their homes. Children and servants would manually carry water indoors from a local stream or a hand pump system in their yard. Transportation of water to a community was not relatively new, but supplying sanitary water into homes wouldn’t become common place until the 20th century.

Within the last century, most areas in America have made the transition from outhouses in their backyards to energy efficient commodes that can successfully flush a towel through its trap. The next time you become upset over having to call a plumber to fix a backed up drain or a leaky faucet, just think about how your grandparents or great-grandparents had to deal with plumbing issues.


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