Evolution of Modern Plumbing


In the modern lifestyle that we’re used to today, many of us will find it hard to get through even one day without using some sort of plumbing system. Plumbing refers to the pipe system within most homes and buildings. These pipes deal with all our water needs, supplying water when we require it and draining away our waste, food debris, and any other uncleanliness.

We use plumbing for a safe and easy way of dealing with our water needs. Going to the bathroom, washing our dishes, mopping our home, and washing our clothes are all modern conveniences that wouldn’t be easily possible without some sort of plumbing system.

Of course, we do tend to take our plumbing for granted, unless a leak occurs or a pipe bursts! We can’t do without plumbing either, which is why plumbers are so expensive and so necessary. In order to truly appreciate the pipe systems that supply our daily needs, we should take a look at how modern plumbing has evolved through the ages. The major events surround the plumbing system are as follows:


The First Code

The first plumbing code was published back in 1928. This might seem quite recent, being less than a century ago. The code was known as the “Hoover Code,” and was named after then-President Herbert Hoover.  This was probably because this president made great efforts to initiate the code.


The Invention of the Water Closet

The water closet was invented and developed into a passable device from 1900-1932. During this time, the US Patent Office received an overwhelming number of designs for the water closet. These designs included those made by Charles Neff and Robert Frame, who introduced the now-ubiquitous siphoning toilet.

As we can see, it took quite a lot of time for the basic water closet to be developed. This was a serious matter, as disposing of human waste is extremely necessary in order to avoid the spread of disease. Having a way to manage this aspect of our lives took some time, but we’re lucky that someone succeeded in the end!


The Installation of Iron Pipes

Iron pipes for plumbing purposes were first installed in Siegerland, Germany. This was back in 1455 when German workers had learned to produce a fire hot enough to melt metals (such as iron) and pour them into moldings for creating hollow pipes.

At that time, iron was a highly preferred material for anything that needed sturdiness and durability. While iron is susceptible to rust, it’s quite strong and can last for a long time.



The Roman Plumbing Systems

Romans were some of the most advanced civilizations we know of in history, and their ancient plumbing systems are more proof of this concept. There’s a lot of physical evidence that suggests just how advanced the Romans were when it came to plumbing.

In fact, the Romans were the ones who developed the aqueduct, the public and private baths, the underground sewer system, and several forms of water piping systems. They also made bathrooms luxurious by making the fixtures out of marble, fitted with gold and silver parts. Many modern homes are now mimicking this look for a luxurious effect in their bathrooms and even kitchens.



Chinese Plumbing Systems

However, the ancient Roman civilization wasn’t the only one with evidence of plumbing systems. The Chinese also have a rich history of several inventions that have shaped the modern world we know today.

In China, an archaeologist found a 2000-year-old toilet still in working order from the times of the Western Han Dynasty. This ancient toilet bears a faint resemblance to the modern toilet system we have today, so it’s possible that someone took inspiration from this model for our toilets in the current era.



Doing Away With Copper

Along with iron, copper was also one of the first materials to be used for the earliest plumbing systems. Due to a shortage of copper, non-metallic plastic piping was introduced into use for modern plumbing systems in 1966. We’re now all familiar with PVC piping, which is now more or less the industry standard for many plumbing systems. The plastic option is light, durable, and poses no risk of rusting. Besides, plastic (specifically PVC or polyvinyl chloride) is also easier and more cost-effective to produce pipes, which makes it an excellent replacement to copper.



Installation of Drainage Piping Systems

Drainage piping systems were installed in buildings during 1845 and 1850. The plumbing code might have come later on, but most structures in the United States had some convenient modern-ish plumbing way before that.

These piping systems really helped in transporting sewage away from homes and buildings to a proper disposal area. Now, of course, most of us who grew up in a modern home can’t imagine living without flush toilets and running water for too long.



Underground Sewers

Before the concept of underground sewers, the sewerage lines used to run very near or even above the surface of the streets. Fortunately, the first underground sewer was installed in 1728, with many more developed right afterward. This step was taken after New York City officials got a load of complaints about open sewers, which smelled really stinky.



The Origin of the Word ‘Plumber’

The word plumber derives from the Latin plumbum, which means lead. Since plumbing systems also consisted of lead pipes at one time, this is a logical connection. In fact, this is also why the chemical symbol of lead is “Pb” (“plumbum”) in your periodic table of elements.

Most of us know enough to call the plumber whenever there’s an issue with the plumbing in our house, office, or any other building. The matter of plumbing is a sensitive one; many people who try to save money by going for a DIY job in this area usually have to end up paying the plumber loads of cash for the damage they cause.




The ancient Arabs, who were called the Nabataeans, made great use of each seasonal rain to convey water for their own use. They did this by creating gadgets like aqueducts and efficient piping systems, much like the ones we can still see in Petra, Jordan.

The Pont du Gard is a Roman aqueduct located at Nîmes in southern France. Thought to be built between 40 and 60 AD, the Pont du Gard enabled the aqueduct of Nîmes to cross the Gard River. It is an impressive engineering feat as well as an architectural wonder. It was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site list in 1985.



Bathing Platforms at Harappa, Pakistan

A large public well and public bathing platforms are found in the archaeological site of Harappa, located in southern Pakistan. People might have used these platforms for washing clothes as well, signifying that a plumbing system was in place even then.



Egyptian Copper Pipes

The Ancient Egyptians developed copper pipes that were used to build elaborate bathrooms inside the pyramids as well as intricate irrigation and sewage systems. Obviously, this was also one of the oldest plumbing systems.

As the Egyptians’ quality of life depended on the rise and fall of the Nile River, which was their main source of water, it was only a matter of time before they hit upon a way to get water on demand. Their engineers thus created elaborate pipe systems to convey water from the Nile to water their crops, and to provide water to residents.


Copper Pipes in Palace Ruins

The copper water pipes found in the palace ruins in Indus River Valley (India) is one of the oldest known copper water piping. It is about 6000 to 7000 years old. This gives evidence that copper has long been the standard valuable material for water piping into many commercial buildings and homes.  They probably need help like this to maintain it.

Finding out More

You might also be interested in how plumbing has shaped our modern civilization. For this purpose, the book titled ‘Flushed: How the Plumber Saved Civilization’ by W. Hodding Carter might be of interest. Check it out here:


This book tells us how the modern plumbing systems we take for granted are actually marvels of engineering. Plus, we also get to learn about how the plumbing system has made our lives easier. All this is told to us through a lot of witty anecdotes and entertaining stories. We get science, history, and some very engaging firsthand experiences all in one place.


There’s no doubt that we humans need water for survival, whether it’s to drink or to keep ourselves clean. With the plumbing systems we have today, many of us lead a far easier life than our ancestors. It hence important that we know how these systems came to be and how they were improved throughout the ages.