Today, homeowners all over the world take plumbing for granted. That’s because the plumbing in our homes is so deceptively simple. It’s little more than a network of supply pipes to bring clean water in and some drain pipes to remove dirty water. The whole system works with very little in the way of maintenance and is remarkably reliable. However, have you ever wondered how plumbing came to be in the first place? The experts here at Apollo Plumbing, Heating & Air Conditioning know all about it. Here’s a brief explanation of the history of plumbing.

Plumbing Began With Masonry

Although historians still contest the details, the first plumbing we’re aware of appeared sometime around 3500 B.C. It was in Mohenjo-Daro, which supplied homes will well water made from masonry. The city also had the first known sewer system, which consisted of covered mud brick-lined trenches that ran along every street. Wastewater from homes flowed outside via masonry plumbing and into those trenches, where it traveled out of the city proper.

Then Came Copper Pipes

Around a thousand years later, in 2500 B.C., the Egyptians made a great leap forward with the invention of copper pipes. Those pipes made up some of the first known crop irrigation systems, allowing the Egyptians to flood their fields with water carried in from the nearby Nile River. There’s evidence that the same type of pipes made their way into structures, too. Archaeologists found copper pipes running throughout the tomb of King Sahure, where they carried wastewater away from ritual sites within the structure.

Plumbing Now Does as the Romans Did

The next major advance in plumbing technology happened during the Roman Empire, between 500 B.C. and the year 476. The Romans turned the rudimentary plumbing systems of earlier civilizations into massive infrastructure that served whole metropolises. In many ways, the plumbing invented by the Romans is all but identical to the plumbing we use today.

To supply their cities with fresh water, the Romans constructed massive stone aqueducts that carried as much as 1.2 billion liters of water into Rome every day. That water allowed for huge public and private baths, the structures of many of which survive to this day. And that’s not all. The Romans also devised the first known on-demand hot water plumbing systems, too.

To supply hot water to bathhouses and the homes of the wealthy, the Romans invented a device known as a miliarium. In form and function—they were the world’s first tank-based water heaters. A miliarium consisted of a large lead tank with a copper bottom situated atop a furnace. The tank would fill with fresh water via a supply pipe, which the furnace would heat before sending it where needed within the structure.

A Royal Flush

By the 1500s, indoor plumbing was common throughout the wealthiest parts of Europe, with one exception—there were no toilets. In their place, people used outhouses and chamber pots, even in the palaces of royalty. However, in 1596, a royal English outcast by the name of Sir John Harrington set out to change that.

It was he who designed and built the first flushing toilet, giving rise to the nickname for them that some of us still use today—Johns. His invention drew the praise of his godmother, Queen Elisabeth I, who ordered him to build one for her personal use at Richmond Palace. Unfortunately, the toilet didn’t gain popularity outside of the royal family for some time afterward.

Eventually, another man named Alexander Cummings patented a similar flushing toilet design in 1775. That design did get people’s attention, and eventually, the English government mandated that all new homes have one in 1848.

The Arrival of Ceramic Toilets and Modern Water Heaters

The next big advances in the world of plumbing happened in the 1870s, nearly simultaneously. The first event was the invention and introduction of the ceramic single-piece toilet. It was the brainchild of Thomas William Twyford, a British potter, who named it The Unitas. The ceramic toilet caught on and is still the design that today’s toilets descend from. Twyford’s company, Twyford Bathrooms, continues to manufacture and sell toilets to this day.

Around the same time, a Norwegian engineer named Edwin Ruud was hard at work on another plumbing invention milestone: the first gas-fired storage-tank water heater. His design took advantage of the growing availability of natural gas supplies to residences in the US, which helped spur the widespread adoption of the invention.

A Shift to Plastics

The final major evolution that completes the story of plumbing’s development so far was the invention of plastic piping. It was the result of metal shortages that plagued the world before, during, and after World War II. That reality pushed scientists to explore the use of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) as a material for water piping. By 1936, the first tests of PVC pipes had started taking place all over Germany.

In the US, PVC pipes started taking over water supply systems in 1955. Since then, they’ve gone on to become one of the most widely-used types of plumbing piping in the world. In fact, it’s difficult to find any recently-built homes that don’t rely on a predominantly PVC-based plumbing system these days.

The Plumbing of Today and Tomorrow

Although the plumbing we rely on today is largely made up of a mixture of the inventions detailed above, there are still some ongoing plumbing improvements working their way into modern homes. Among those are the increasing adoption of tankless hot water systems, and the adoption of low-flow shower heads and toilets that help conserve water.

Plus, there are a handful of other new technologies taking hold. For example, a growing number of homeowners are installing internet-connected leak-detection equipment that monitors their homes for signs of plumbing trouble. There is also increasing adoption of smart irrigation systems and greywater systems to help satisfy landscaping needs without wasting water unnecessarily. There are even people beginning to use heat pump technology to provide all of the hot water their homes need at a fraction of the cost of conventionally-powered water heaters.

If It’s Plumbing, We Know All About It

As you may have noticed by now, the team here at Apollo Plumbing, Heating & Air Conditioning knows an awful lot about plumbing and the technology that makes it work. That’s why we’re the top place to go for all of your plumbing needs. If you’re a homeowner in the Troutdale, OR, Vancouver, WA, or Eagle, ID, area, you won’t find a better provider of plumbing installation, repair, and maintenance services than us. We also offer 24-hour emergency services for plumbing issues that can’t wait. It’s why we have served the area since 1984 and have a spotless record for customer service and exemplary workmanship. Plus, we can help you with any heating, cooling, or indoor air quality services your home needs, too.

If you’ve got a plumbing problem, contact Apollo Plumbing, Heating & Air Conditioning for help today!

Meet the Author
Brandon Bird
Brandon Bird

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