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History Of Plumbing

Old Roman Arena

What is the origin of the word plumbers?


The word “plumber” derives from the Latin word “plumbum” which means lead. Given that many words in English have varied etymology depending on how you use the (noun or adjective) the word is going to be written differently. That’s the case with the word plumber; in Latin plumber is “plumbarius” which was used to describe someone whose work was to take care of the lead pipes and lead fixtures for water channels of ancient Rome. The word “plumbers” has Latin roots, from plumbus meaning lead. On the other hand the word “lead” has many possible roots, most likely from the West Germanic word “loudhom”, but there are more stem words which are perfect candidates from Celtics languages and other Indo-European Languages.


Despite the eminent relationship between the word and the ancient profession, modern plumbing is more than just lead pipes and fixtures. Urban cities need very complex plumbing systems, for which many other materials other than lead are used. Modern plumbing systems today involve a lot of mathematics, physics, chemistry, and even robotics. It seems that the profession has outgrown the name. Hopefully, it does not get to the point of a plumber saving us from a giant mutant turtle like in the Mario Bros video games.


The plumbing profession has been around since ancient Babylonia circa 6000-3000 BC. Babylonia in the arid desserts of the Middle East was known in the ancient world by its beautiful terraces with elevated gardens and beautiful fountains. Babylonia's plumbing systems were very complex supplying a city in the desert with water aqueducts, perhaps without plumbing great civilizations like Babylon would have not progressed as fast as they did.

Who was the first civilization to have plumbers on duty?


The ancient Babylonians were known for their water systems in 6000 BC, but the civilization that really brought plumbing to the profession it is today were the Romans. All the territories that were conquered by the Romans were rebuilt to accommodate to the Roman communal Bathhouses and fountains. The Romans were busy conquering every piece of land in their sight and after the conquest came the reconstruction and people who specialized in plumbing were needed every time. Over time as plumbing systems became more sophisticated plumbing morphed from labor to a profession.


Before the water aqueducts, human settlements depended on nearby rivers and wells, making settlement expansions restricted by the size of the nearby river or wells. However when aqueducts came around water could be transported from great distances, allowing settlements to expand and grow without being limited by the size of rivers or numbers of wells. All thanks to the advances in plumbing that were made by the early civilizations.

Who invented the modern toilet?


The modern toilet is probably one of the most overlooked inventions nowadays. Imagine how your life would be without toilets? People used stools with a buckets when they didn’t want to go outside to the trench where the latrine would be seated. However, there were those men who had something in their minds telling them “There has to be a better way to take a dump!”


Popular cultures accredit the English man Thomas Crapper as the inventor of the flushable modern toilet, but new findings in archeology show that not only the elegant English were concerned about a better way to meet their “biological necessities”. The Asians were having the same concern even before the English did.


Thomas Crapper lived during the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, he was the royal sanitation engineer for the English crown and many of today’s great plumbing companies in England have some sort of connection with Crapper. He has many patents for water traps and toilet systems under his name. Many consider him the inventor of the modern toilet, but others would argue he is just an improver of earlier concepts. This is one of the things in history that are left to the eye of the beholder.


China: Archeologists found a 2,000-year-old toilet still in working conditions from the times of the Western Han Dynasty. This finding resembles the modern toilet system we have in use today. So it seems the Chinese came up with a concept for the modern toilet way before England. The 2000 years old Chinese toilet was a great invention. Not only is it still in working condition like a modern toilet, it has a comfortable seat (made out of stone) and it also has something the English and all other great civilizations including our modern one have overlooked, it has an arm rest. That’s right! The Chinese version of a flushable toilet invented 2,000 years ago had an arm rest. Hopefully, modern manufacturers learn from history and provide us with the living standards Emperor Han wanted for the afterlife.

Modern-day plumbing and where it is heading?


Plumbing services have evolved a lot! Being a plumber was not so complicated 50 years ago as it is now, especially in big urbanized areas like American cities.


In heavily populated areas like Los Angeles County, new tools and fixtures are entering the market every day. Plumbers need to work with other industries; plumbing and other fields are merging creating beneficial relationships. For example in England pipe rehabilitation technology received assistance from chemistry when they came up with a sleeve that when damped with a special chemical mixture becomes as hard as a regular ABS pipe, it is known among professionals in the industry as a “liner”. Mechanical engineers came up with a trench-less pipe replacement system that uses a hydraulic pull, a steel bursting head, and a steel cable to burst its way through the groundbreaking and replace the old pipe with a new one. This is known in the plumbing industry as pipe bursting or plain trench-less.


Plumbing is going side by side with technological advances, providing us every time with better services that are less conflictive with our daily busy urban lives.

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