Plumbing may not be a glamorous topic, but being able to deal with sewage properly is an important part of both convenience and health. For that reason, plumbing innovations over the past millennia should be seen as bigger milestones than they typically are — and there needs to be continued support for innovations that will make plumbing better both here in the U.S. and abroad. Here are seven plumbing-related historical developments that you’ve probably never appreciated enough:
- Copper Piping in the Ancient World
As far back as 4000 BCE, the Indus River Valley civilization in India was using copper piping. And around 2500 BCE, the ancient Egyptians had elaborate sewage and irrigation systems that also used copper piping. They even built fancy bathrooms in the pyramids.
- Lead Pipes for Roman Toilets
The Romans had very advanced plumbing systems, including both public and private systems and underground sewers. Those innovations can be dated between 500 BCE and 455 CE.
- The First Flushing Water Closet
The first flushing toilet was invented in 1596 (roughly) by Sir John Harrington, the godson of Queen Elizabeth.
- Underground Sewers in NYC
The area that would become the United States got its first underground sewer in 1728, when health officials responded to complaints about how New York City’s open sewers smelled. That was also a major step forward in terms of sanitation.
- National Public Health Act
In 1848, the National Public Health Act was passed. This model plumbing legislation has now been adapted and adopted all over the world.
- Public Accommodations for People With Disabilities
It wasn’t until 1961 that buildings and facilities — including restrooms — were legally required to be made accessible for people with physical disabilities.
- Trenchless Sewer Pipe Repair
It’s important that sewer pipes be kept in good condition, because otherwise leakage can contaminate groundwater supplies and cause other environmental problems. For that reason, trenchless sewer pipe repair, a technology that allows pipes to be filled with CIPP liners (“cured in place pipe”) instead of being dug up and replaced, is a major recent innovation. Trenchless sewer repair costs less, too.
Can you think of any other technological leaps forward, from drain cleaning to public sanitation, that ought to make this list? Share your suggestions in the comments.