Few modern people give much thought to their plumbing unless there is an active problem. The rest of the time we turn a faucet and expect clean, clear water. We flush the toilet to get rid of waste, and we give little thought to how the water comes into the house or where it goes once we flush it down the drain. But the history of plumbing is rather fascinating and starts way, way back, much further back than most people would believe. In fact, to start at the beginning of plumbing you have to go to the Neolithic period when man started digging permanent wells for water, allowing for settlements to stretch beyond the immediate banks of rivers and lakes. Modern plumbing owes a debt of gratitude to the Greeks and Romans.
Spartans Like It Cold; Romans Like Variety
- The Greeks get credit for using terra cotta pipes to get water from the source indoors.
- The Spartan soldiers did not use warm or hot water, preferring to use a very cold bath to rinse off whenever it was needed. They would stand in a specially designed tub and a slave would pour the water over their heads.
- The Romans used aqueducts, fed by gravity to transport water sometimes miles from the water source. Three separate baths would be created starting with a cold water bath followed by a warmer one and then a hot bath. The warm and hot water was achieved via hollow bricks warmed by a furnace. The Romans loved their baths so much that they would sometimes conduct official business in there.
- The Romans believed that you should take a bath after exercising and after eating. The bath would help with digestion according to thinking of the time.
- The early Christians of the time, perhaps unhappy with the whole state of affairs, found the Roman baths to be unsanitary and unsavory if not outright sinful.
- In addition to the Christians of the time, some of the wealthy found it vulgar to bathe and preferred a more earthy scent. When they wanted to cover their unwashed aromas, they used perfumes or oils.
Improving Water Quality and Health
- London, which had already had more than its share of problems with disease by that time, was the site of the first treated water for public consumption. Chlorine was added to the public water to treat an outbreak of cholera in 1879. Nearly 30 years later, the addition of chlorine would become a permanent thing as another disease outbreak threatened public health and safety. The United States would also begin to permanently add chlorine to drinking water for the public in 1908.
- Waste water and water treatment facilities are now located in every city and community in the United States. Water quality is monitored for a number of different known contaminants and the findings must be reported to the public if there is a concern. Boil orders are issued whenever there is a risk of contamination from any source.