The art and practice of indoor plumbing has been around for centuries, with its origins dating back to Ancient Egypt. Over the years, the world of plumbing has evolved tremendously, from complex construction in the Roman Empire to Sir John Harrington's invention of the first flush toilet for his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth I. In the United States, plumbing was mainly found in the homes of the rich until the 1840s. Since then, plumbing has become an integral aspect of our daily lives, with the average person spending 73 hours a year and 5,767 hours of their life in the bathroom.
Plumbing brings comfort, safety and beauty to our homes. It serves the essential purpose of supplying clean water and disposing of wastewater. A good plumbing system is capable of even supplying clean and drinking water. In terms of modern plumbing as we know it and its lineage to the United States, we can more closely trace the modern toilet to the Scottish inventor Alexander Cummings.
He is credited with creating the patent for the flush toilet design in 1775, although the original design dates back to Sir John Harrington for his grandmother's use. Engineer and inventor Joseph Bramah made a big impact in this area by developing a patent for a working toilet. This device replaced the side valve with a hinged flap that sealed the bottom of the cup. Bramah obtained a patent for this innovation in 1778, and this same design continued to be produced well into the 19th century.
Bramah is also known for his invention of the hydraulic press, which is a device used for forging, riveting, molding, cutting, punching, deep drawing and metal forming operations. The next plumbing buff to make a wave in the world is best known for its rumored namesake. Thomas Crapper founded his company in 1861 and received nine patents for plumbing innovations throughout his career, including the flush toilet and the floating ball faucet, which regulates the water level in the tank. This mechanism is still in use today, but is generally referred to as a toilet fill valve.
It was Crapper who manufactured one of the first successful flush toilet lines in London in the late 19th century. In terms of its popularity in the United States, Isaiah Rogers built eight toilets throughout a hotel four years later in 1833. The White House received running water on its main floor that same year but didn't have upstairs plumbing until President Franklin Pierce took office. In terms of a comprehensive sewer system, Chicago pioneered its development during the 1850s. Chicago's rapid growth had also been a shock to the world. By 1850, its population had grown to 28,000 - more than six times its size in a matter of ten years - making it the ninth largest city in America by 1860. This rapid population growth required a more developed way of operating its plumbing system. In 1849, a cholera outbreak in Chicago killed 678 people - representing 2.9% of its population - and an additional outbreak in 1854 killed 1,424 people.
As public awareness of the association between dirty wastewater and disease increased during this time period, Chicago's Board of Sewer Commissioners was tasked with planning a coordination system for its sewage system. In 1889, Chicago's Sanitary District was created and tasked with overseeing construction of its Sanitary and Ship Canal - which connected Lake Michigan with Illinois' Mississippi River watershed - as well as other projects related to sewage treatment and disposal. Today, plumbing is an essential part of our lives that we often take for granted. From Ancient Egypt to modern times, it has come a long way since its inception and continues to evolve as technology advances.