The Interesting History of the Plumbing Trade


Plumbing is the system of pipes, fittings, drains, fixtures, and valves installed to distribute potable water for washing, drinking, heating, and as well as waterborne waste removal. Aside from that, it also refers to the skilled trade that installs and maintains it, which is popularly known as plumbers.

They are skilled tradespeople who specialize in the installation, repair, and maintenance of water systems. They need to have a license from a trade or vocational schooland have a background in different aspects of industrial, domestic, commercial, and communal pipework, water heating, rainwater and drainage, sewer networking, water treatment like cleaning and purification, water storage, temperature adjustments, and more.

The plumbing trade is advanced, and it is commonly believed to be founded by the legendary water bridges of the Romans. If you want to know more about how it started, you’re in the right place. Today, we are going to talk about the interesting history of the plumbing trade.

Plumbing in the Roman Empire

There were small evolutions to plumbing that happened in Babylonia in 3000 B.C., but the Romans were the first ones to build elaborate systems that could bring water in and out of cities. The Romans were able to transport water from mountain springs to supply cities on the dry plains by building aqueducts or water bridges that conveyed water.

The sewer system of Rome was revolutionary for waste disposal. The sewers that are hidden underground took aqueduct overflow and flushed the refused into the river. Before this, previous civilizations used to put waste next to the streets or let it drain away from their houses. But the Romans were focused on clean water sources. Aside from searching for underground springs to connect their water bridges and using tunnels, they were also able to reroute muddied water from lakes after a storm to places that needed it for industrial or irrigation uses where clean water is not very important.

Once the water reached the city via the aqueduct’s gravity system, it will be stored in closed tanks or water towers in one of the highest spots in the city. These were the storage point between the open aqueducts and the closed piping delivery system. During those times, only the wealthiest people had private pipes. Meaning, most of the piped water was delivered under the streets and back up to fountains, public water basins, and as well as to the well-known giant baths in Rome.

The First Flushable Toilet

The Romans eventually did extend their innovations to public restrooms. However, their toilets were not usually connected to the sewage system because they were afraid of contamination. Since many plumbing innovations stopped at the fall of the Empire, the very first flushable toilet was not designed until the Elizabeth era, which was long before indoor plumbing.

The first flushable toiler was invented by courtier Sir John Harrington. Based on its description, it was a two-foot dep waterproof oval bowl that required 7.5 gallons of water to flush. It has an in-house cistern that provided water, and it could accommodate up to 20 people between flushes. However, due to the lack of manufacturing and disposal improvements, people did not start to adopt this first flushable toilet.

The Development of Plumbing Through the Years

Water systems back in ancient times relied on gravity for water supply. They used pipes or channels made of clay, bamboo, lead, stone, or wood. Hollowed wooden logs that are wrapped in steel banding were utilized for plumbing pipes, most especially water mains. About 500 years ago, logs were used for water distribution in England. In the late 1700s through the 1800s, cities in the United States began using hollowed logs. In the present time, most of the plumbing supply pipes you can find are made of steel, plastic, and copper.

In 1893, an American man named John Michael Kohler invented the very first bathtub in the world. He used a cast-iron horse trough and added four decorative feet to the bottom of it, and covered it with an enamel finish.

Through the years, many more innovations connected to plumbing have been made. These include the creation of different kinds of faucets, showers and showerheads, water heaters, and more. See this post for the full history of the water heater.

In 1940, the War Production Board had restricted the use of iron steel and copper during World War II. People were forced to use new materials, like cast-iron and plastics in manufacturing. With this, new plumbing materials were introduced.


With all the innovations we’ve mentioned above, the plumbing trade continues to flourish became experts are always needed to install, repair, maintain, and innovate our plumbing systems. In the present time, the plumbing trade work on different categories, such as water supplies, heating systems, gas and oil supplies, drainage systems, piping and fixtures, and waste disposal.

We hope the information we shared here helped you in further understanding the history of the plumbing trade.

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