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The Incredible Origin of the Drinking Fountain

A convenience of modern living that people often take for granted is the drinking fountain. We see drinking fountains in numerous places: schools, restaurants, amusement parks, office buildings, public walkways. The idea of simply receiving freshwater for drinking from a small stand, projected up to mouth level for hygiene, seems like something that’s been around forever.

It hasn’t, of course. Every invention has an origin story, and the Tale of the Drinking Fountain is yet another intriguing one in the history of plumbing.

From the Ashes of the Thames Arose… The Drinking Fountain!

The drinking fountain originates in the population boom in London during the mid-19th century. Very few homes had access to water, and instead people had to get it from the River Thames—which might as well have been pulling water straight from the sewer! The river was so polluted that in 1958 a noxious cloud of rotten sewage smell rolled off the river, causing the House of Commons to be abandoned and a large outbreak of disease throughout the city. (This event is known, colorfully, as “The Great Stink.”) The pollution of the Thames hit the lower classes the hardest, but the problem could reach as high as the royal family: historians now believe that Prince Albert’s death from typhoid in 1961 was due to water contamination seeping beneath Windsor Castle.

Something had to be done. After a scientist named John Snow proved that cholera outbreaks were coming from polluted water, the Metropolitan Free Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association was formed in 1959 to provide clean and safe drinking water for the poor. They also supported providing clean water as a way to combat alcohol consumption. The first fountain was constructed on Holborn Hill and opened in April 1959. It was a huge success, and was used by 7,000 people a day. More than 80 fountains were built around the city over the next six years—often positioned outside bars and taverns.

The U.S. built its first fountain in 1889. It was here that drinking fountains first started to shoot water up into the air, which was much more sanitary than the common cup used for the first fountains. In the 20th century, the vertical project was changed to the familiar arced design, which improved sanitation. And this design is still with us today.

For all your home plumbing needs (including water treatment for fresh drinking water) call Ken Neyer Plumbing, Inc. in Cincinnati, OH.

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