The History of Plumbing: It’s Older Than You Think 

We all rely on some form of plumbing system to obtain water that we use in our daily lives. Whether it is water for cooking, cleaning, doing the laundry and flushing the toilet or irrigation systems for water fields and canals, people around the world have been using plumbing for decades.

Yet when did plumbing start to appear? Archaeologists have been discovering water systems and pipe work around the world that has dated back to 4000 B.C. These early inventions show how important plumbing has been throughout history, and how these early civilizations had a hand in the evolution of the plumbing systems that we use today.

Indus River Valley: 4000 B.C.

Around 4,000 B.C. to 3,000 B.C., water pipes, irrigation systems, canals and basins were placed along the Indus River in India to supply water to the palace of Egyptian ruler Menes. Archaeologists have also discovered that Egyptians were using sophisticated copper pipes for irrigation and placed pipes inside the pyramids around 2,500 B.C. to offer bathrooms and sewage systems for the dead. The Harappa civilization, now considered India, also began using sitting toilets.

China: 2000 B.C.

Go across the world to China to discover the first bamboo reed pipes that made up plumbing systems. These systems were used to carry natural gas and water throughout the ancient salt mines.

Crete: 1500 B.C. to 1000 B.C.

Archaeologists discovered underground channels with elaborate drainage systems in Crete that date back to the time of King Minos. They also discovered cast-iron like bathtubs and flushing toilets with wooden seats in the area.

Babylon: 600 B.C.

It’s well known that elaborate bathroom and plumbing systems were used in Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar II. There were separate bathrooms and latrines with raised seats in the palace as the water systems were connected by a covered sewer system. The Hanging Gardens in the palace were irrigated using a shaduf mechanical device, where a bucket connected to a wooden beam and fulcrum would lift water to the elevated troughs.

Rome: 500 B.C. to 455 A.D.

Romans have been using advanced plumbing systems since 500 B.C. They had aqueducts, public baths and underground sewers. These systems used lead and bronze piping as marble fixtures.

European Countries: 1455 A.D. to 1775 A.D.

During this time frame, Europeans began exploring and expanding on plumbing inventions at a very rapid pace. Sigerland, Germany began installing iron pipes in the area for the first time in 1455 A.D. Meanwhile, the first flushing water closet was invented and used in the Richmond Palace by Sir John Harrington who was the godson to Queen Elizabeth I in 1596 A.D.

In 1664, cast iron plumbing lines were installed in Versailles, France at the command of King Louis XIV as it carried water from a plumbing station to the palace water fountains. The first modern toilet prototype was created by a Scottish inventor, Alexander Cummings, as it included a water trap to prevent the sewage smell from invading the bowl.

America: 350 B.C. to the 19th century

While it is easy to assume that the first water systems were brought over by the New World settlers, it was actually the Native Americans who were using ancient plumbing systems before the pilgrims’ arrival. The Hohokam Indians had irrigation canals running throughout the Salt River Valley in 350 B.C. up to 1455 A.D. when they suddenly vanished.

The next plumbing systems placed in the country were in 1728 in New York as the first underground water systems were installed. In 1804, Philadelphia switched to cast iron pipes for better water delivery. The first public water mains were used in New York in the 1830s to fight fires, while the first indoor plumbing systems and drainage systems began appearing in buildings and hotels from 1829 A.D. to 1855 A.D.

The history of plumbing can be found everywhere around the world, as archeologists will continue to discover other ancient places that used these systems. Luckily, our plumbing systems that we use today will continue to evolve and advance, as plumbing companies like J.W. Freeman Plumbing will be there to help residential and commercial customers with their plumbing needs.

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