Great plumbing and the technology of the sewer system is something that is often taken for granted, but has a rich and fascinating history full of interesting plumbing facts you never knew. We all know that skilled plumbers and drain cleaners are vital to keeping homes and businesses running smoothly today, but do you know some of the more memorable moments in history of our industry?
We’ve put together 7 fun plumbing facts together for you to share with your co-workers or bring to your next trivia night!
Seven Interesting Plumbing Facts:
#1: The World’s Oldest Sewer Systems
The oldest sewer system discovered to date is located in the palace ruins of the Indus River Valley in India, dating back to 4000 BCE.
Evidence of indoor plumbing has also been found in ancient Egypt at the Pyramid of Cheops dating from 2500 BCE. Archeologists have discovered that the ancient Egyptians used copper piping, much like modern plumbing. It seems the Egyptians knew their stuff!
However, the most elaborate ancient sewer system is located in Rome. The Cloaca Maxima, which translates to Great Sewer, was built in the 6th or 7th century BCE. Previous plumbing systems had simply carried away rainwater, but this system was used to drain marshland, and carry waste to the nearby Tiber River.
#2: The First Underground Sewer
You may not be surprised to learn this interesting plumbing fact: the first underground sewer was built in New York City. After residents complained about the smell coming from the open sewers, NYC Health Officials decided to construct an underground system in 1728. We are glad they did; outside of the change that made in civil engineering across the world, we would hate to have to call NYC the Smelly Apple!
#3: Origin of the Word “Plumber”
The word plumber can be traced back to the Romans. The word comes from the Latin term “plumbum” which means lead. Romans who worked with lead were called “Plumbarius”, which has shortened over time to the word we use today.
#4: The Inventor of the Toilet
You may think you know the answer, so let us set you straight with this fun plumbing fact. The first flush toilet was invented in England by Sir John Harington in 1596. His contraption used a flush valve that would release water from a tank.
Sir Harrington was godson to Queen Elizabeth, who was an enthusiastic user of his invention. Sadly the rest of the world did not agree, and the chamber pot continued its reign of popularity. Sir Harrington got the last laugh, however, as the term “the John” derives from the name of its inventor.
Another Englishman managed to do what Sir Harrington could not: he made flushing toilets popular. In the 1880’s plumber Thomas Crapper replaced the old floating valve system with a siphon system. Along with making toilets more user-friendly, he successfully advertised his product to the masses. We know this is true today, as we still use the term “the Crapper”.
#5: Einstein Loved Plumbing
Albert Einstein was inducted as an honorary member in the Plumbers and Steamfitters Union in Washington, D.C. According to The Reporter from November 18, 1954 Einstein said:
“If I would be a young man again and had to decide how to make my living, I would not try to become a scientist or scholar or teacher. I would rather choose to be a plumber in the hope to find that modest degree of independence still available under present circumstances.”
This quote gained him many fans in the plumbing community.
#6: The Most Expensive Toilet
Here’s a fun plumbing fact! You might think that the world’s most expensive toilet is covered in gold (like the Hang Fung toilet), or comes from Japan (where toilets can warm your bum and talk to you), but you would be wrong.
The most expensive toilet in the world lives on the International Space Station. Costing a cool $19 million, this toilet not only straps astronauts in place, it sucks waste away into a tank where it is then converted into drinking water.
#7: Things That Should Never Go Down Your Drain
Although we love it when we get called in for a job, here are some things that history has taught us again and again to never put down the drain:
- Stringy vegetables like asparagus and celery
- Rice and pasta