Most New Yorkers probably never think about the history of plumbing -- they just appreciate the fact that it’s there and that it works. However, when the day comes and you face a plumbing emergency (like your toilet not flushing) you finally become appreciative of the plumber in NYC that can fix it for you.
The New York plumbing industry began in the mid 1700’s. The earliest pipe systems were made of wood buried beneath the roads. The water pipes were constructed using fallen hemlock or elm trees. The trees were individually cut into six to seven foot lengths at around nine to ten inches thick. The center was dug out to create space for the water to go through. These pipes were used for drinking water. This system eventually became a problem due to the uneven layout of the ground below. This would lead to sagging in the logs, causing wood to become stagnant, attracting insects. Eventually the wood would rot, giving the water a wood-like taste.
The early 1800’s saw the advent of a real working public water system. What people today may find surprising is that it was originally meant for fighting fires. The way the system worked was that well water was pumped into an above ground reservoir and was distributed all over the city via cast iron water mains. These were considered to be your early fire hydrants. As the years passed, private citizens wanted to utilize the system as well for their drinking, washing, and sewage needs. In 1834, architect Isaiah Rogers created the Astor House, the first New York City hotel to have indoor plumbing. It was quite an achievement in its day: standing at six stories high with bathrooms for 300 guest rooms. It was the first major building in New York City that was created with indoor plumbing in mind from the very beginning.
Today, New York City’s water system is an intricate series of pipes under miles and miles of individual homes, apartment complexes, international cultural sites, shopping centers, etc. Even with New York City having a reputation for being less than pristine, its drinking water is considered to be one of the best in the country. Remember to thank a plumber in NYC for all he does to keep your public drinking water safe to drink.