A Short History of Indoor Plumbing

bathroom interior

When faced with something that saves time or labor, or otherwise does something useful, people will often tell you it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread. We’ve always preferred “the best thing since indoor plumbing,” partly because we can slice our own bread, and partly because we’d rather not trudge outdoors every time nature calls. If you’ve ever wondered where all your indoor plumbing originated — and who to call when something goes wrong with it — wonder no more. Ace Plumbing Heating & Air Conditioning has you covered.

Indoor Plumbing: a Timeline of Key Events and Inventions

3000 BC: Ancient Egypt sees the invention of water pipes that complement the emerging civilization’s irrigation systems.

2500 BC: Archaeologists discover indoor plumbing installed in pyramids for the use of deceased nobles in the afterlife.

1000 BC: The rise of Minoan civilization brings with it bathtubs, the first flush toilet, and an underground sewage system.

500 BC to 455 AD: The Roman Empire revolutionizes plumbing, building hundreds of miles of aqueducts, underground sewers, and public baths. The Romans also introduced lead pipe, the Latin name for which (plumbum) gives us the word “plumbing.”

1596: Sir John Harrington designs the first modern flush toilet — colloquially known as a “water closet” — for his godmother, Queen Elizabeth I. After he publishes a humorous pamphlet about his invention, he is disgraced and the invention is nearly lost to history, though the habit of calling it “the John” persists.

1775: Scotsman Alexander Cummings improves on Harrington’s design with a water trap that cuts back on smell and lends to greater hygiene.

1804: The city of Philadelphia becomes the first to provide municipal water entirely through cast iron pipes.

1810: The English Regency Shower, the first we would recognize in its modern form, is introduced. Unfortunately, it works by recycling the same water over and over.

1833: Indoor plumbing comes to the White House, but only on the first floor.

1855: Franz San Galli invents the radiator, and with it, central indoor heating. Later cast-iron designs would ease production and lower costs.

1885: Chicago introduces America’s first fully modern sewer system.

1886: Josephine Cochran invents the modern dishwashing machine.

1889: Norwegian immigrant Edwin Ruud invents the gas-fired tank-type hot water heater.

1891: The toilet finally assumes its modern form thanks to the efforts of Thomas Crapper, who history would thank by turning his name into a euphemism for the toilet.

1927: John Hammes invents the first garbage disposal, which comes to the market in 1940 under the InSinkErator name.

The Present and Future of Indoor Plumbing

So there you have it. The plumbing in your home consists of inventions that have evolved over millennia, but in many cases has taken its modern form relatively recently in human history. Some of these inventions aren’t done evolving yet; recent years have seen even the humble toilet take new forms, while the thermostat (invented in 1883) has gotten a modern makeover to make it smarter — and with it, to make your home smarter in the process.

Of course, modern conveniences often bring with them new opportunities, but also more of the same old problems. No matter how advanced it gets, plumbing is still prone to leaks, clogs, and a host of other annoyances. So whether you need us to install a new water heater that connects to the Internet of Things or just need our help with a “classic” toilet clog, call Ace Plumbing.