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Necessity is the Mother of Invention

Imagine you live in Columbia South Carolina in the 1800’s. No water heaters, no real plumbing systems at all, just water pumps and wells. You would have a Saturday night bath, so you were clean for church on Sunday morning. Your bath is taken in a galvanized iron wash tub, filled with water that was boiled on the stove. Your tub is placed in front of the kitchen stove for warmth. Once you are clean you must empty the wash tub by hand. Then you go the rest of your week with simple daily washing, splash a little water on your face, hands and maybe armpits. Sounds like a stinky time, right? Well it was, but all that is about to change. 1870 was the beginning of the Technology Revolution and plumbing was a main subject of advancement in the United States.

It all starts with Hot Water

In our last blog, The History of Plumbing, we left off right before the invention of the water heater and for good reason. The water heater, which started getting installed in homes and businesses around 1870, was the catalyst for a wave of new inventions that followed. The water heater itself couldn’t store the water so a hot water tank was invented. The tank and the heater itself were set up away from the main rooms that needed the water due to safety, which in turn lead to the invention of Circulation pipes. These pipes once installed made pressurized hot water readily available in larger volumes in the rooms that needed the water most, your kitchen and washroom. The increase in pipes being installed around cities and towns lead to the Venting Theory. The idea behind this theory was that by connecting a vent pipe to a drain at the trap outlet you were able to keep air pressure the same, preventing a vacuum effect that would pull in odors and gages from the connected sewer systems. The venting theory was proven true in 1874 and still holds true today.

The wave of Plumbing Patents

After the invent of the water heater, the United States from 1890 to 1900 saw an influx in patents for products we still use today. For example, Edwin Ruud patented his design for an automatic storage tank-type water heater that used a bottom gas heater and a gas value that controlled the temperature of the water. This invention combined the heater and the tank in one unit. Mr. Ruud would go on to perfect his design and be the first to invent the tank-less water heater under his business Ruud Manufacturing Company, now owned by Rheem Manufacturing. Mr. Ruud himself would go on and patent another 6 gas and water related inventions by 1901.  We feel it is also important to mention the Manning Formula, although this is not a patented invention, the formula is what allows engineers to calculate flow in sloping drains. Invented in 1890 by Mr. Robert Manning, the Manning Formula is still used today in what is commonly referred to as Open Channel Flow and is the main calculation used when designing a plumbing system for new construction.

The Water Closet

The one invention that would cause the most plumbing related patents to be submitted to the US Patent office was the Water Closet. From 1900 to 1932 the US Patent office saw 350 new requests for patents on this seemingly basic product. Yet, this invention is even more necessary to our modern daily lives than the water heater, although today we just call it a toilet. At beginning of the 1900’s the water closet wasn’t really a new invention, as the idea had been around for centuries with enough history to have its own blog. As an example, the S trap design was invented in 1775 by Alexander Cumming and is still a design used today in modern toilets. But what made the 1900’s important to toilets was the fact that they become cheaper and more efficient, so they could be installed in all homes regardless of wealth. As plumbing systems were installed in cities across our great nation, the toilet started to become a staple in buildings and were connected to these new systems to take our waste away to water treatment facilities. This eliminated outhouses and widespread use of cesspools. Thank goodness, right! Here is a fun fact, the standard toilet design for us here in North America is a siphoning toilet. The history of this design is a huge debate as no one can agree on who invented it and when, was it a British design or was it an American design. We do know that Sir Thomas Crapper was not the inventor but may be the best at marketing it! You can tell a siphoning toilet by the sound it makes when flushed, it makes a gurgle as the air is sucked down, using gravity and air to force your waste down and clean water in the bowl. If your travel overseas you might notice their toilets don’t sound the same, this is why.

Today Advancement is all about Convenience

After the 1930’s the future of plumbing would be driven by convenience. Since we were able to build the inventions that were necessary for us to increase hygiene and clean water, we started living longer and more lavish lives. All of us, not just the rich. Since technology is all about efficiency, it makes sense that in 40 years we went from building a system to supplying inventions that make life easier. From 1930 on, we saw the invent of dishwashers, garbage disposals, the shower and washing machines, all designed for convenience. Yet today if one of these so-called conveniences decided to stop working we would all throw a big fit and it would ruin our day. So, we guess convenience is all a matter of opinion. We at Kay Plumbing know that there were many other influential events in history that help shape plumbing as we know it today. For respect of your time we left them out. Our summarization of the history of plumbing over our last two blogs were the highlights we felt were the most important. We hope you enjoyed this journey with us through time!

By: Konrad Orzechowski


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