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Did the Romans Really Invent Plumbing?

Plumbing is something that most people take for granted. Day in, day out we utilise plumbing without giving it a second thought. Be it for showering or bathing, washing clothes and dishes, using the toilet, turning on the taps that deliver fresh drinking water to the home or the water running through the homes heating system.

Without plumbing, people would find everyday life to be a real chore. In fact, the only time people ever really think about their plumbing system is when there is a problem with it and a plumber is needed quickly. So what are the origins of plumbing? And did the Romans really invent it as people are taught?

To answer this question we need to jump back in time to 1700 BC when the very first means of plumbing were invented. At this point in time, we don't head to Italy and the Roman Empire, but to Crete in Greece. It would be easy to think that the plumbing invented would be of the most basic kind, but in actuality, they built a complex system to carry away sewage and built the first flush toilets. These would have been very different to the ones we use today and were flushed by using water-filled bowls poured by hand.

In 312 BC the Romans built the first aqueducts which spanned over 57 miles and delivered over 1.2 billion litres of fresh water on a daily basis. 1200 years later in England, Queen Elizabeth the 1st installed the first modern flushing toilet which would shortly become the standard across the country for those who could afford it. In 1652 in Boston, USA, the first water system was built using hollowed out tree trunks as the pipes that carried water. Another 100 or so years later and Alexander Cummings was granted the first patent for a flushing toilet.

The year 1804 saw Philadelphia become the first city to use cast iron pipes in its entirety and made it a global leader in plumbing and water delivery. In 1848, England set the standards for water safety and purity standards which were adopted globally as the gold standard. 1869 saw the introduction of the very first water tower to be built which was in Chicago, the USA which used gravity to deliver water to the homes and buildings of the city.

The 1920s saw the arrival of the tank type flushing toilet system which used an average of 5 to 7 gallons of water per flush and in 1974 this dropped to 3 gallons. By this time almost every home across the UK had its own toilet and bathroom, with many being separate buildings outdoors known as "out houses".

As we enter the modern world, plumbing has advanced well beyond what anyone thought would be possible. Toilets are now able to use less than a litre to flush, showers can cover an entire bathroom ceiling and the standards of cleanliness have improved drastically. It is said that plumbing was one of the driving catalysts as to why people are living longer and healthier lives due to the removal of human waste and the filtering of water to remove bacteria and microbes which could be harmful to our health.

So next time you turn the tap on in your kitchen, stop for a moment and be thankful that the citizens of Greece created such an amazing system and not the Romans who many are led to believe did.