World Plumbing Day: A brief history
March 4, 2020 | By HPAC Magazine
World Plumbing Day is March 11, revisit the history of the trade and do your part to recognize the international celebration.
World Plumbing Day is happening on March 11.
Established by the World Plumbing Council in 2010, the day is now a fixture on the calendars around the globe.
In honour of the tradespeople who keep our hot water running and our toilets flushing, the HPAC team has put together a quick history lesson on this essential service.
The earliest forms of plumbing can be seen in ancient civilizations such as Rome and China. The Roman Empire introduced sophisticated aqueduct systems for carrying water to towns and cities. These aqueducts brought water to city latrines, public baths and even into the homes of wealthier citizens. While they were impressive for the time, Roman aqueducts lacked pressurized water systems, heaters and coolers. For water to travel from point A to point B, the Romans relied on gravity in the form of descending concrete pipes.
Plumbing as we know it today was born many centuries later in the Victorian Era. As the Industrial Revolution brought more and more people into cities for work, sanitation became a rising concern. Overpopulated neighbourhoods often lacked sophisticated indoor plumbing systems which were commonplace in upper class neighbourhoods. As a result, the streets quickly became polluted with waste. A lack of proper municipal sanitation programs led to outbreaks of disease such as typhoid, cholera and diphtheria. Municipal sanitation programs became a major public health focus towards the end of the 19th century, with many cities installing sewer systems for proper waste disposal.
In the 1860’s, Joseph Bazalgette, a civil engineer in London, designed an underground sewerage network that diverted waste into the outskirts of the Thames River. In the U.S., the first sewer systems were constructed in Chicago and New York in the 1850’s.
Connecting flush toilets to these massive sewerage networks began shortly after. The S-bend pipe, which was invented by Englishman Alexander Cumming, allowed waste to be carried away from indoor plumbing networks while retaining liquid to prevent dangerous sewage gases like methane and ammonia from entering homes and buildings.
In the 1880’s, English plumber and businessman, Thomas Crapper improved upon the S-bend pipe by patenting the U-bend plumbing trap. Unlike the S-bend, the U-bend did not dry out nor did it need an overflow. Crapper, often mistakenly credited with ‘inventing the toilet,’ actually held nine patents for washroom improvements, including the floating ballcock system which is still used in toilets today.
Of course, plumbing is not just limited to toilets. Access to clean drinking water and basic sanitation can all be accredited to plumbing systems and the tradespeople who build and maintain them. According to the CIPH and World Health Organization, there are still 785 million people around the world without access to basic drinking water services. It is estimated that 829,000 people die each year due to consuming unsafe drinking water.
To learn more about the critical work plumbers do and take steps to get involved in recognizing World Plumber Day on Wednesday, March 11th please visit CIPH’s World Plumbing Day page and MCAC’s recommendations for celebrating this annual event.