Informational Guide

History of Plumbing

We take a look and break down the history of plumbing and answer the question when was indoor plumbing invented and by who.

by Ian Haynes

Plumbing is a type of system that moves fluids. We use plumbing in modern life for water sources (drinking water and showering) as well as removing waterborne waste.

Plumbing has a rich history beginning with the Egyptians and the Romans. This article will break down the history of plumbing and answer the question when was indoor plumbing invented and by who.

The word plumbing comes from the Latin word plumbum, which means lead. The Romans used lead pipes when creating their plumbing systems. Romans were the second group of people to work on creating plumbing systems.

The Egyptians began plumbing with copper pipes back in 2500 BC, but they primarily created irrigation systems. The Romans brought aqueducts, fountains, and baths to their society. They also upgraded from copper pipes to lead pipes. People who specialize in plumbing are called plumbers.

Plumbers specialize in fixing the plumbing system when problems arise as well as installing plumbing fixtures.

When Was Indoor Plumbing Invented

A Brief History Of Plumbing

Ancient Plumbing

  • First Water Pipes 
    The first water pipes go back to the Indus River Valley Civilization in the area that is now known as India and Pakistan. In approximately 3500 B.C., this civilization devised the first water pipes.
  • First Copper Pipes  
    These pipes were made out of copper because that metal was readily available. Bronze and tin were also used in the creation of the first plumbing pipes. However, many historians credit the Egyptians in 2500 B.C. with the creation of the first copper pipes because they created a pipe system that used the Nile River to irrigate crops.
  • First Drainage And Sewage Systems 
    The first drainage system and subsequent sewage system arrived around 1600 B.C. In Crete, the Greek island, there was a drainage system found that had manholes, sinks, and toilet areas.
  • First Showers, Sinks, Tub, And Toilet 
    In 710 B.C., a non-mechanical shower was created for a king where slaves would dump water over the king's head while he sat in the tub. The first true shower, sink, tub, and modern toilet would not arrive until the Romans developed more advanced water systems in 500 B.C. to 476 A.D.

Pioneers of Modern Plumbing

  • First Flushing Toilet  
    The first flushing toilet arrived on the scene in 1596 in Britain. It was built by Sir John Harington, which is why it has been called “the John.”
  • First Cast Iron Plumbing Line 
    The first cast iron plumbing line was built in France for King Louis XIV. This cast iron plumbing system was 15 miles long and helped to water the king's gardens.
  • The First Mechanical Shower   
    The first mechanical shower showed up in 1767 in England and used a large tub, an overhead tank, and a chain. Whenever the homeowner would pull on the chain, water would be poured onto their head, and then it would be collected in the tub so that it could be used once again.
  • The First Prototype Toilet   
    It wasn’t until 1775 that the first prototype toilet was built. This new toilet used a water inlet valve to create a flushing action.
  • The First Water System For Firefighters   
    Firefighters in New York City used a plumbing system to create the first water system for fighting fires. They used hollow logs to move water so that they could fight fires.  

19th Century Plumbing

  • The First Cast Iron Pipe In America   
    The first cast iron pipe in America came in the early 1800s when the city moved from a wooden log plumbing system to the cast-iron plumbing system.
  • The First Hotel Plumbing  
    In 1829, the Tremont Hotel in Boston became the first hotel to offer plumbing services to its clientele. The hotel had running water and indoor toilets for their guests.
  • The First Plumbing In White House  
    The White House was right behind the Tremont Hotel and implemented plumbing in 1833. This provided the President with the same running water and indoor toilet pleasure as the hotel’s guests experienced.
  • The First Municipal Reservoir   
    New York instituted the first municipal reservoir in 1835 and used the system to provide its residents with 72 million gallons of water daily!
  • The First Toilet Paper   
    In 1857, the inventor Joseph Gayetty brought Americans the first toilet paper. This toilet paper was sold in flat sheets and was an easy way for homeowners to clean themselves while using the toilet.The first ceramic flushing toilet and water heaters — In the 1870s, the first ceramic flushing toilet arrived as well as the first water heaters. These two inventions made it possible for homeowners to start installing modern plumbing advancements in their homes.

Contemporary Plumbing

  • The First Standard Plumbing Codes    
    In the 1930s, the standard plumbing codes arrived by way of President Herbert Hoover. These codes were designed to ensure that homes with plumbing systems followed the rules to avoid accidents. Some of these plumbing codes are still used today.
  • The First Non-Metallic Pipes    
    In 1952, non-metallic pipes arrived in America via PVC water pipes. PVC material made it possible for more homes to be built with plumbing systems because it was much cheaper than previous metallic pipes.
  • The First Water Conservation Laws 
    In 1978, as more and more homeowners and public buildings adapted advanced plumbing systems, California decided to create a law that limited how much water could be flushed with toilets. In 1992, the United States government followed suit and created a law forcing toilets to flush no more than 1.6 gallons of water.
History Of Plumbing

Modern Day Plumbing: What Have We Achieved

There are so many new modern day plumbing advancements that help homeowners live more comfortable lives. From tankless water heaters to greywater systems, modern day plumbing gives us the ability to enjoy our home.

Tankless Water Heaters

A tankless water heater is a water heater that does not use a tank to heat water. The way this works is that the water is heated while it moves through the smaller unit, so that warm water is always available.

Hot Water Recirculation

Hot water recirculation is the method that allows hot water to be moving through the water system and maintain hot at all times. Instead of letting the hot water cool in the pipes, the hot water is recirculated in a specific system to ensure hot water is always available.

Smart Irrigation

Smart irrigation allows homeowners, businesses, and farmers to control when sprinklers are turned on and off. This helps conserve water and also makes watering your lawn or crops easy (it’s all on autopilot!)

Leak Detectors

Leak detectors are placed in the water system to determine when a leak occurs. If a leak does occur, there will be an alert that lets you know. You can turn off the water system and bring in a plumber before things get worse.

Touchless Faucets and Toilets

A touchless faucet or toilet system is easy to use because it reacts to a hand placed in front of it. This keeps hygiene in check and is convenient.

Greywater Systems

A greywater system uses gently used water and moves it through a recycling system so that it can be used again. This is popular with campers, for example, but can also be used in homes.

Smart Toilets, Showers, and Water Heaters

The smart tech category is a popular one in every industry, and plumbing is no exception.

Smart toilets, smart water heaters, and smart showers are all examples of smart technology. 

Smart technology includes things like overflow protection, automatic flushing, heated seating, remote control features, and self-cleaning features.


The Future of Plumbing: Where Is It Heading?

The future of plumbing is unknown, but the plumbing industry is continuing to grow each year and will continue to grow in the future. The demand for comfortable accommodations using running water, hot water, and removing unsanitary water will continue well into the future.

One of the newest trends in the plumbing industry consists of social media marketing. Plumbers are using social media to list their services and to validate their capability. If you are in the plumbing industry, we recommend using social media so that customers can see other customers who are happy with your work and learn more about your plumbing services.

Another trend that we have seen in the industry is water consumption awareness. People are aware that using too much water is dangerous for the future with climate change. Homeowners are often interested in water-efficient and water saving plumbing technology.

The Future Of Plumbing

People also Ask (FAQs)

How did plumbing change the world?

Plumbing changed the world by giving us access to many of our modern conveniences, including showers, drinking water, toilets, and steam. Plumbing also gave us the ability to heat our water so we could take those luxurious warm showers or clean our dishes with a dishwasher.

What came first, plumbing or electricity?

Plumbing came first before electricity. Plumbing has its origins in 2500 BC with the Egyptians. However, it wasn't until the 1840s that indoor plumbing became a modern convenience. Edison helped create the first electric power grid in 1882.

When did indoor toilets become common?

Indoor toilets started to show up in British homes in the 1890s but were only found in hotels and wealthy people's homes. It was in the 1930s that homeowners of all classes began to purchase indoor toilets. However, by 1940 only half of the homes had hot water, a flush toilet, and a shower/bathtub.

What are the two main types of plumbing systems?

There are actually three main types of plumbing systems: sanitary drainage, stormwater drainages, and portable water. Sometimes people place stormwater drainage and sanitary drainage in the same category.

What year did Romans start plumbing?

The Romans started plumbing in 500 B.C. They built aqueducts, foundations, and baths to create a comfortable environment for themselves.


Conclusion

The history of plumbing is complex and multi-faceted. From the Egyptians to the Romans to our modern-day plumbing systems, we all benefit from this incredible invention. Easy access to showers, baths, toilets, and irrigation systems makes our lives easier and more comfortable today.

Ian Haynes is an expert writer who has successfully deployed over 500 plumbing pages and other related content. He has an excellent understanding of home plumbing issues and translates his experiences via Plumbing Lab so readers can have a better understanding of common household problems. Outside of his work, Ian likes exploring Brooklyn with his Labrador.

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