History of Plumbing

When you run water in the sink to brush your teeth or wash dishes, do you give plumbing a second thought? Most of us only think about plumbing when we are in need of a plumber—if a pipe bursts, a toilet backs up, or another plumbing emergency occurs. Beyond keeping pipes running smoothly with fresh, clean water for daily use, plumbing is a modern convenience that most of us take for granted.

6000 B.C.

Examples of early “plumbing” could be seen in 6000 B.C. Mesopotamia, where slaves hand-carried large pots of water up from the river.

Did you know that plumbing dates back to ancient Chinese, Indian, Greek, Roman, and Persian civilizations? These cultures paved the way for modern plumbing with the use of rudimentary pipes that transported potable water to public baths in the city. Hundreds of years ago, water was just as essential as it is today. Fresh water is a precious resource needed for drinking and sanitation. Without plumbing, the health of our population could hang in the balance.

4000-3000 B.C

The first copper water pipes were discovered by archaeologists in the Indus River Valley of India, dating back to 4000-3000 B.C.

Just a few centuries later in 2500 B.C., Egyptians were credited with developing their own copper pipes to construct elaborate indoor bathrooms in pyramids. Egyptians used this same ingenuity to build detailed irrigation and sewage systems for public use. Ancient Roman plumbing systems erected just a few millennia later stood the test of time; innovators in the Roman Empire were hailed as the best plumbers in history, until American plumbers constructed new sewage systems in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Clearly, modern plumbing has come a long way.

Here are 10 fun facts you may not know about your pipes

The first flushing toilet is credited to King Minos of Crete in 18th century B.C. However, the oldest Neolithic village in the UK, Skara Brae, had a primitive flushing system 1200 years prior.

European urbanites in the 18th century deposited waste in chamber pots and threw sewage into city streets.

The first public toilets were introduced in 1851 in London’s Crystal Palace.

The single handle faucet to control both hot and cold water was invented by Al Moen in 1939.

Albert Einstein was an honorary member of the Plumbers and Steamfitters Union.

Contrary to popular belief, Thomas Crapper of London did not invent the toilet; he was the owner of a successful plumbing company with numerous plumbing patents to his name.


of medications consumed are excreted as urinary waste. Today’s sewer systems have a high concentration of pharmaceutical drugs.

A leaky faucet that drips twice a minute will waste a gallon of water a week.

Manhole covers are circular so that they can’t fall through the opening when turned sideways.

The average person is believed to spend three years of their life on the toilet.

In light of these plumbing advancements, it may be hard to believe that many people are still without indoor plumbing, even in developed countries like the US.

Percent of housing units lacking complete pumbling facilities

Based on the map to the right, access to indoor plumbing varies greatly by region.

Areas of South Dakota, Apache County in Arizona, Rio Grande in Texas, Appalachia in Kentucky and Virginia, and rural Alaska have high percentages of unplumbed households.

While this outlook seems bleak, it helps to put it in perspective. According to the report Still Living Without the Basics in the 21st Century, these unplumbed households equate to only 0.64% of all homes in the US.

630,000 Households

Without full indoor plumbing facilities, lacking either a bathtub, shower, toilet, or running wate

in the average household

This sets the number of Americans without indoor plumbing at well

over 1 million

Plumbing infiltration has improved dramatically from just 60 years ago; in 1950, one fourth of the country and over 50% of rural residents lacked complete plumbing facilities.

It may seem like a no-brainer, but indoor plumbing has its advantages.

Plumbing development in all areas of the country is critical to provide the convenience of running water, as well as the health and sanitation benefits that come with it. In areas without access to municipal sewer lines, septic tank plumbing has become the norm. People do have to get their septic tanks pumped every 3-5 years though.

Just a few decades ago, before indoor plumbing was mainstream, public health officials pushed for new building codes that required indoor plumbing in an attempt to improve sanitation.

The expense of indoor plumbing construction was first resisted by builders and homeowners in lieu of more “affordable” housing. Thankfully, indoor plumbing won out in the end; increased building costs paid off as indoor plumbing eliminated typhoid and cholera.

Dr. Lewis Thomas

The Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City went so far as to emphasize that adequate plumbing was more important to improve health in underdeveloped countries than new medical facilities. The renowned immunologist pointed out that public health has steadily climbed in past centuries, mainly related to better plumbing and engineering that reduced human feces contamination and the spread of disease.

We can be thankful for modern plumbing advancements for countless reasons. Around the world, more than 2 billion people lack adequate sanitation.

20 Plumbing Milestones That Changed History

3000 B.C.

Egyptian ruler Menes supports a thriving civilization spanning over 3000 years by constructing canals, basins, and irrigation ditches to hold floodwater.

2700 B.C.

Water pipes are crafted from clay and chopped straw in the Indus River Valley in India.

1500 B.C.

Complex sewage disposal systems with rudimentary flushing toilets are credited to King Minos of Crete. Just 1000 years later, lead-lined bathtubs began to appear in northern Greece.

2100 B.C.

Innovative Egyptians fashion group toilets out of stone; toilets are also built in tombs as the Egyptians believe the dead should be provided with everyday necessities in the afterlife.

52 A.D.

Rome boasts an estimated 220 miles of aqueducts, water channels, and pipes used to supply public wells, baths, and homes; Europeans later lose interest in sanitation and cleanliness after the fall of the Roman Empire, estimated in 376 A.D.

700-1500 A.D.

Considered the “dark ages of plumbing and hygiene,” where disease, cesspools, and human excrement abound.


Alexander Cummings secures the first patent for the flushing toilet.


The first modern flushing toilet is designed by Sir John Harrington, godson of Queen Elizabeth; initially, the idea flops due to lack of sewage plumbing.


The English Regency shower is introduced, where water is plumbed through a nozzle and sprayed onto the shoulders. Water runoff is collected and reused as it is pumped through the shower again.


The first hostelry in the world opens with indoor plumbing at the Tremont Hotel in Boston. Soon, soap used during bathing catches on for hygiene purposes.


The importance of indoor running water is emphasized after Louis Pasteur publishes research on dangerous bacteria. Homes are built with large, immobile cast-iron sinks, inspiring the phrase “everything but the kitchen sink.”


The White House is plumbed with running water on the first floor. Upstairs plumbing is introduced 20 years later when President Franklin Pierce is in office.


The New York Metropolitan Board of Health studies sewage, drainage, waste disposal, and water supply to pioneer modern plumbing and sanitation standards.”


The first comprehensive sewer system in the US is built in Chicago. Homes still lack indoor baths; public bathing facilities charge five cents for adults and three cents for children.


Toilet designs shift from the elevated water tank into the more contemporary closed toilet tank and bowl.


Thomas Crapper updates the modern toilet by patenting his valve-and-siphon design.


American servicemen see company name Thomas Crapper & Co. stamped on European toilets; servicemen later spread the common US term for toilet, “crapper,” when they build American plumbing infrastructures in the 1920s.


The first two-ply toilet paper is manufactured by St. Andrews Paper Mill in the UK.


Low-flow toilets are manufactured to conserve water, with both single and dual flush. Low-flow toilets consume 1.6 gallons per flush compared to 3.5-7 gallons per flush in older models.


The first sensor flushing toilet is introduced in Japan.

The Future of Indoor Plumbing

Then comes another category altogether:

Plumbing pioneers are still looking for ways to make indoor plumbing more efficient, intuitive, and cost-effective. Today, a growing number of homes have been updated with low-flow toilets and showerheads for the purpose of water conservation. In a brand-new home, you’re likely to find a complete set of energy and water-efficient appliances, including the clothes washer and dishwasher, to conserve utility costs and reduce water waste.

In some customized homes, commercial buildings, and luxury hotels, you may be surprised at what you find in the average bathroom.

Bathroom Technology has been upgraded and fine-tuned

for the purpose of water conservation, sanitation, and comfort.

In the bathroom of the future, you just might see:

Self-cleaning toilet

Manufactured with environmentally-friendly, dual-flushing design to self-clean with each flush.

Hands-free faucet

Growing in popularity, a residential or commercial hands-free faucet improves bathroom sanitation between uses.

Blue-tooth enabled showerhead speaker system

Offers up to seven hours of in-shower listening for music, podcasts, or news.

Digital shower

Used to program and save ideal shower settings based on water pressure and temperature, if desired

LED bathtub

Aesthetically-pleasing, luminescent tub guaranteed to catch the eye in any hotel or master suite.

Waterproof Hydra television

Offers non-stop TV viewing in the shower or bath with a secure wall mount.

While some of these high-tech gadgets may seem frivolous and even ridiculous, plumbing innovations are in demand.

From the flashy to the economical, the indoor plumbing tides are changing.

In many modern buildings, luxury gadgets, like those described above, go hand-in-hand with what is called smart plumbing.

Smart plumbing, or green plumbing, aims to reduce water waste through new wastewater technologies, more efficient plumbing design, and practical landscaping.

Smart plumbing trends in new building design and old building renovations focus primarily on:
  • Water efficiency to minimize potable water use.
  • More effective waste removal with low-flow appliances.
  • Resourceful water collection methods—to collect, store, and distribute rainwater in non-potable plumbing fixtures.
  • Economical water heating to cut down on unneeded energy costs.

Green plumbing zeroes in on the conservation of our most important natural resource.

Homes and businesses can be upgraded with safer lead-free faucets, which prevent harmful, daily lead contamination in drinking water.

Other popular green plumbing renovations include solar hot water heater insulation to replace inefficient plastic water heaters,

WaterSense meters to regulate incoming residential water pressure,

and water catchment greywater systems that reuse excess water from the home and repurpose it for land irrigation.

These simple upgrades have the potential to save hundreds on water and energy costs and can add to property value.



of North Americans recognize that indoor plumbing is essential to their family’s health and safety.

The purpose of plumbing is to provide a convenience to the public and to protect health by offering a reliable, sanitary water supply. Adequate indoor plumbing supports families, businesses, industries, and agriculture across the US.


The next time that you wash your hands or fill a glass of water from the tap, take a moment to appreciate how far we have come.


  1. “27 Historical Events that Shaped Modern Plumbing Systems.” The Expert Witness RSS.
  2. “Plumbing History: 15 Fun Facts About Toilets.” Plumbing History: 15 Fun Facts About Toilets.
  3. “1.6 million Americans don’t have indoor plumbing. Here’s where they live.” Washington Post.
  4. “Still Living Without the Basics in the 21st Century.” win-water.org.
  5. “Indoor Plumbing: A Timeline.” Indoor Plumbing: A Timeline.
  6. “The History of Toilets.” About.com Inventors.
  7. Knobloch, Carley. “10 High-Tech Bathroom Gadgets That Transport Our Powder Rooms Into The Future (PHOTOS).” The Huffington Post.