History of Bathrooms – Indoor Plumbing

  • May 18, 2017
  • Updates

Over the last few weeks we have shared the history of bathrooms across our news page, in the final of this series we’re concentrating on what connects the bathroom – plumbing. Indoor plumbing revolutionised the way water was carried, cleaned and consumed across the globe, and provided us with easy access to water.

Since the beginning of time man has known that water is needed, basic instincts told us we require it for drinking, washing, cooking and cleaning. The first water transportation method was to scoop it up from lakes or rivers and carry it home, which could be miles depending on where you lived. Cities tended to be established near rivers so inhabitants were close to a natural water source. (Unfortunately, gathering and carrying water back to houses is still an activity that has to be done in some countries, something that we don’t even have to consider.)

Early Plumbing

Ancient Egyptians and Ancient Greeks built open pipes out of copper or lead which carried water through cities, as well as taking the waste away (to a certain degree). Removing the waste wasn’t as affective as it was today, the flush was someone pouring water down the stone toilets which wouldn’t guarantee complete cleanliness. As usual, the Ancient Romans took this open copper pipe system and made it bigger and better. Their 10 mile long canal connected to 18 water sources, was made of stone and supplied water to; bathhouses, public toilets, homes of the wealthy and water fountains.

Several centuries went by where ‘plumbing’ became extremely basic again; walking to collect water, washing using bowls and rags and a midnight toilet trip was a chamberpot under the bed. All of the waste would then be disposed of in nearby fields or out on the street.

Modern Day Plumbing

In 1455 German engineers created and installed a system made up of iron pipes to transport water towards towns and cities, even through the Ancient Romans had built a similar system centuries before, this was the introduction to modern plumbing. Unfortunately, disposing of waste water had stayed the same (chucking out in the most convenient way) so when the first flushing toilet came in 1596, it would flush directly into Queen Elizabeth’s moat. It wasn’t until 1728 that health officials responded to the smell in the streets of New York and work started on the first underground sewer. By 1848 the National Health Act was implemented and most of the world had adopted underground plumbing. (Ten years later, in 1868, water heaters with circulation pipes were invented, making pressurised hot water available on mass rather than heating batches of water over a fire or stove.)

The link between contaminated water and illness was made in 1856 – after nearly 75,000 lives were lost – and the first integrated sewer system was built in Chicago which took waste away from Lake Michigan and the drinking water supply. Two years later, this system was constructed in England.

Water Treatment Farms started to appear in 1939 (something that is still adapting and changing today), providing clean water to millions of homes. With easy access to water and the popular bathroom suites, indoor toilets and washing facilities became a necessity. From 1950 onwards all houses were built with bathrooms connected to running water.


Ancient Egyptian Piping Ancient Roman Aqueduct Castle & Moat Lake Michigan

Water Treatment Farm




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