The rich and wonderful history of plumbing: running water and more

The history of plumbing is the history of the development of water distribution and waste disposal systems in buildings. Plumbing has a long history as people soon realized the importance of having easy access to water and removing waste. The ancient Romans were among the first to use lead pipes to distribute potable water, and they were followed by the Greeks and then by early medieval European monasteries.

This article will examine the history of plumbing from ancient Rome to modern-day toilets with some appliances thrown in for good measure.


 The Romans: the civilization with the first public toilets

Before the Romans wells were used to get water out of the ground. This required a lot of work as you need to get water up all the time.

The Romans were among the first to use lead pipes to distribute potable water to the public. Lead pipes have a long history in masonry, but the Romans were the first to use lead tubes in walls and floors for potable water distribution. This really improved the quality of life. Before this often beer or wine was made because the water was not drinkable.

By processing it, they were able to make it cleaner. Lead is a very heavy material so it is not used anymore but back in the day, it was really revolutionary. Some aqueducts that transported water can still be seen. These are enormous constructions that transport the water.  It is remarkable that some houses already had fresh water. Some even had hot and cold water.

The first bathrooms were created in ancient Rome. The Romans developed a system of public baths, where people would go to bathe and wash their clothes.

The Romans also realized the importance of running water for toilets and started to implement this as well in some public toilets. This made the cities a lot cleaner and allowed them to grow and prosper. We are still learning more about their plumbing system and recent discoveries point towards advanced systems. 

Lead was difficult to find at that point in time and they had to import it from several places in the world. This increased the cost of their plumbing system. Romans invested a lot of resources in their plumbing infrastructure as they saw its advantages of it. 

The Greeks: when was running water invented

The Greeks used copper pipes. This allowed for a more efficient distribution of water with less infrastructure needed as copper weighs less than lead. They improved underground systems as these take up less space in a city.

 The Greeks further developed indoor plumbing systems. They constructed a series of aqueducts for carrying water from various springs throughout the city to various fountains and cisterns that would be used by those who needed fresh water.

The greeks had to deal with challenging geographies such as mountains and warm weather. This made it harder to design plumbing systems but they were up to the challenge. For example, they were experimenting with pumps to transport the water.

 Obviously, their system was quite primitive if you compare it to the standards of today. There is a reason why most cities were built around rivers and oceans.  

Medieval plumbing

A lot of cities were still dirty as people often threw their waste on the street during this time. This created very unpleasant situations and cities had to invest in public toilets and more advanced systems. People didn’t realize the importance of clean cities at that point in time or less attention was paid to it.

Early medieval monasteries were among the first to use plumbing as a way of distributing water. They used this to farm as well. Up to this point, every bathroom and toilet is still shared by many people. There are no plumbing systems in each house as we are used to today.

At this point, all water was still drained through the ground outside where it would typically go untreated in rivers or streams. 

The next step is to install toilets in each house and treat the wastewater. This took a long time and required some new inventions though. 

Sir John Harington

Sir John Harington  was a British inventor and politician who invented the flush toilet.  The first flush toilet was built by him. It consisted an underground cistern that could be flushed by using a bucket connected to a large pipe, which led to a nearby well. It was installed without having to make any changes in an existing building.

 This was a big step forward but still more work was to be done.

Thomas Crapper

Crapper is most famous for his invention of the modern-day toilet. As with any invention, there were a lot of people that worked on it. Crapper’s toilets were used by Queen Victoria at Buckingham Palace, showing that this was cutting-edge technology at the time.

He died in 1910, but not before designing over 50 different models of flushing toilets. The Thomas Crapper Memorial Museum dedicated to his life and work still stands today on Bridge Street in Lambeth, London. Some people still use the term Crapper when they refer to a toilet. 

When did indoor plumbing start: Post 1945: big steps forward

In Europe, a lot of houses were destroyed after the Second World War and they had to be rebuilt. A lot of plumbers were needed and schools educated a lot of them. Steel was a popular material at this point in time. This still required a lot of physical labor. 

During this time more and more houses were starting to get plumbing. This increased the need to transport and treat the wastewater. 

More and more people were getting hot water as well but it still took a few decades before this became commonplace. Most houses had a toilet in the garden and no bathroom to speak of. It is only during the past few decades that these luxuries have been added. 

History of warm water heater

A water heater is a device that heats water for domestic use. Our current plumbing system wouldn’t be complete without it.

Water heaters have been around since ancient times when the Ancient Romans found that bringing water to a boil was an effective way of purifying it. In 1797, James Watt invented a separate condenser from which hot water could be drawn; this led to better control of the flow rate in steam engines. This provided more insights into how we could deal with warm water.

The first modern-day water heater was worked on by John Gorrie. Around the end of the 19th century, Frederick Taylor patented the first hot water heater; he sold his patent to Thomas Edison who then began mass producing them.

Today there are many types of warm water heating appliances, including tankless and radiant collectors.

Modern Day plumbing

The toilet is one of the most important appliances in any home, as it helps to keep houses clean. Toilets help with the elimination of waste. There are a variety of different types of toilets from water-flush toilets that use water to remove waste, to dry flush toilets that use toilet paper and air pressure to remove waste.

 The types of plumbing techniques have changed slowly but surely as society progressed into new advancements and technologies. One example of this is how different materials have replaced lead with copper and more recently PEX. This can be partly explained by the price increase of copper in recent years and the evolution of new technologies.

The methods used have also changed over time too, from pumps with horses in Europe during the middle ages all the way up to present-day pumps that are much more efficient than before with fewer maintenance costs.

Everyday life has become so much easier because of modern-day conveniences like these!

History of plumbing code

Plumbers in the USA often have to follow rules that are developed in their state. This is often called ‘code’. The goal is to avoid mistakes and make sure that everyone follows the norms. The first plumbing code was released in 1928. 

Since then it has been refined multiple times. It includes what materials can be used and how to install everything. Inspectors often check if everything is up to code. Sometimes things are grandfathered in for older houses but they need to be updated when renovations start. This makes sure that the plumbing system works well and that owners can rely on it.

Plumbers have to follow the new regulations all the time to make sure that they follow these rules. It can be quite a challenge to do so but most plumbers set aside a few days per year to take a course about this so that they are on top of the new evolutions. For example, natural gas is quite dangerous and has to be installed properly. The code gives some outlines of what needs to happen. Not everything is described in detail but some broad requirements are discussed. 

The future of plumbing

In the recent past, plumbing has evolved from rudimentary systems that were primarily used for waste disposal to more sophisticated systems that have been developed for water distribution and purification. New materials have been developed to make plumbing easier and more efficient. Materials like rubber and plastics are now common in plumbing because of their flexibility, durability, and ease of installation.

Pipes can be made thinner than before, which makes it easier for them to be laid on top of one another without any interruption in plumbing services. Additionally, if a pipe needs to be moved or rerouted, it can be done with less effort than ever before. This has led to an overall increase in the reliability of piping systems.

A new kind of technology called “smartpipes is now being developed. These pipes can collect information about how they operate so that service providers can get better at making sure they function properly while also reducing the amount of time they need to spend fixing problems in the long run. Smart pipes will also help prevent clogs by alerting service providers when there is something wrong with the system or when there are obstructions along the pipe’s path that would lead to clogging at some point down the line.


The history of plumbing is important because it goes hand in hand with the development of cities and the overall advancement of society.

Pipes have been around since ancient times, evolving over time to become one of the most useful inventions in all of human history, as they connect various people and resources in a way that has never before been possible. It is only quite recently that we have hot water and plumbing in each house. In the past, there were often common bathrooms or toilets for the whole street.

Plumbing is a key component of urban development. In cities, water must be brought into buildings for drinking purposes, showering, and flushing toilets. Plumbing is one of the first steps taken in planning out how a city will be developed. It is also important in understanding how society has progressed from an agricultural society to a more technologically advanced society.