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We had a recent guest blogger write an article about the evolution of the drinking fountain and we thought it would suit as a great post for the celebration of World Plumbing Day!
By Monica Gomez
Evolution of the Drinking Fountain
A drinking fountain is a masterful combination of engineering, sanitation and refrigeration, but few people actually spend any time thinking about how this thirst-quenching marvel came into existence. If you were able to go back in time to learn about the history behind the modern drinking fountain, you might be surprised at some of the interesting facts you would find.
History of HVAC
The availability of public water fountains goes back to the ancient Greeks and the Romans who utilized massive aqueduct systems to transport water over great distances. The history of HVAC also dates back as early as the year A.D. 1000. Early Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Chinese and Indians experimented with fans powered by humans or ropes. A hypocaust, a basement furnace with flues that were used to distribute heat, is the earliest known uses of HVAC. By the 1400s, the widespread use of chimneys had begun. The great inventor, Leonardo da Vinci, even developed a water-driven fan to provide HVAC ventilation.
How the Drinking Fountain Came to Be
How did these two sciences converge so that we would have a source of cool, sanitary water readily available to drink in most public locations? Here are just a few highlights in the long and storied history of drinking fountains:
- As civilization expanded, it became increasingly difficult to provide clean water to urban residents. In London during the 1850s, where cholera was often spread through dirty water, a group of wealthy residents banded together to combat this problem. They founded the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain Association, which was dedicated to providing free, public drinking fountains. The opening of the Association’s first fountain in 1859 was witnessed by thousands of people. The concept proved so successful that the society built another 85 water fountains over the next six years.
- Although these fountains provided a much cleaner source of drinking water, people were surprisingly encouraged to use a communal metal cup that was dipped into a basin.
- Meanwhile, settlers in the American colonies were experiencing similar problems with waterborne illnesses and ineffective water delivery systems. 1835 New York was nearly destroyed by fire due to a lack of reliable water. In response, it became one of the first American cities to establish a reliable distribution system for water, including accessible public water fountains.
- As civilization spread across the United States, Luther Haws became a self-employed sheet metal contractor and master plumber in the early 1900s. While working as a sanitation inspector for Berkeley, CA, he noticed that school children were still drinking water from a shared tin cup. Using available parts, he assembled the world’s first drinking faucet so the children would have direct access to the water. He later went on to form the Haws Sanitary Drinking Faucet Company and obtained several patents.
Drinking Fountains Today
Today’s drinking fountains have come a long way from their humble beginnings. Water fountain options now include wall-mounted drinking fountains, electric water coolers, pedestal-mounted fountains, outdoor fountains with separate water dispensers for pets, sink-mounted drinking fountains, and water bottle fillers. All must be lead-free, environmentally safe and meet ADA requirements.
Thanks to pioneers who pursued the fields of HVAC, plumbing, and drinking fountains, we have come a long way from sharing a cup of tepid water from community fountains to enjoying a cool drink of our own.