Indoor plumbing may be something we take for granted in 21st century America, but it has been one of the most significant factors in shaping our modern civilization.
From the early days of brick sewers to the development of closed pipes in Europe during the Renaissance, to the 1972 Clean Water Act instituting the nation's first water treatment plants, commercial plumbing is largely responsible for who we are as a civilization today.
Public Sewer Lines, From Then to Now
The earliest evidence we have of primitive sewer pipes dates back to 2,500 BC in the ancient city of Eshnunna (in present-day Iraq), where archeologists have found remnants of brick sewers. As time passed, other ancient civilizations like the Minoans, the Persians, the Greeks, and the Macedonians continued to improve on and build their own sewage systems.
Finally, in about 800 BC, the Roman Empire built the first open sewer lines. These sewer lines were designed to carry stormwater away from the city, but in the process also swept away the excrement in the streets. The Romans even built cesspools outside of their cities to hold the contaminated water, serving as an early version of what we now know as a septic tank. After the fall of the Roman Empire, in the Dark Ages, sewer lines were abandoned, and filth reigned throughout much of Europe.
The idea of removing waste from the city rose again during the Crusades. For hundreds of years after, progress continued with the development of closed sewer lines and flushing toilets. By 1800, almost 600 American cities had systems in place to pipe water to and from the homes of their inhabitants.
On-Demand Drinking Water
Imagine coming home from a long day of work, wanting nothing more than to take a hot shower and climb into bed. We’ve all been there. Now imagine coming home feeling like that, but needing to go down to a well to get water, and light coals to heat that water, before being able to take your relaxing bath. You could still take a hot bath (or a lukewarm bath, at least), but you’ll have to work harder for it.
One of the many privileges commercial plumbing affords us as a society is water- when we want it, where we want it. And boy, do we take advantage! In fact, research says that upon the integration of water pipes into city homes in 1800, the use of water per capita increased tenfold!
Commercial Plumbing Has Allowed Us to Live Within an Advanced Society
Because of the advancements in commercial plumbing, our cities have been able to advance and grow as well. We also owe the fact that people can live far away from cities, in small towns or on farms, to the advancement of commercial plumbing.
How could we water crops in a field, wash our cars, or even take a shower without water pipes and plumbing systems? It's impressive to take a step back and think how much of our modern society relies on commercial plumbing.