Documentary History of American Water-works

Introduction Historical Background Chronology Geography Biography Technology Ownership and Financing General Bibliography

Introduction

Public water supplies remain a critical factor in improving the health and well-being of urban populations and are instrumental to reducing illness and mortality rates.  Every civilization has had public water supplies, which encompass a wide range of activities including individual consumers gathering water from a nearby lake, river, spring or well, deliveries of water to consumers by a public or private entity, and distribution of water through artificial channels such as aqueducts, canals, or pipelines.

The major reference for the history of American water-works is the four-volume Manual of American Water-works edited by Moses Nelson Baker and published by Engineering News between 1888 and 1897.  This invaluable work expanded on earlier work by John James Robertson Croes and contains an enormous amount of information about individual water-works systems that Baker, Croes, and others had collected.  The final 1897 volume was nearly 700 pages long and excluded a lot of historical material that had been included in earlier volumes.  Although the list of systems is extensive, it is not exhaustive as it depended on individual systems providing responses to written inquiries.  In addition, these compilations include several errors that had found their way into earlier volumes.  Later historians have accepted Baker's work uncritically, resulting in an incomplete history of American water works.

Baker provided summaries of water-works systems operating at the end of each decade starting in 1888, 1890, and 1891, which is shown in the table below along with the number of systems that have been found in the current study along the number of works proposed but apparently not built shown in parentheses:

Waterworks  built by: Baker 1891 Pierce 2016
1800 16 50 (14)
1810 26 102 (20)
1820 30 141 (31)
1830 44 182 (49)
1840 64 212 (66)
1850 83 243 (68)
1860 136 301
1870 243 420
1880 598 778
1890 1,878  --
1896 3,196  --

In 1925, Baker recognized another early system in Schaefferstown, Pennsylvania, which had been "discovered" by journalist Julius Frederich Sachse in 1896.  Baker chose not to update the table as the numbers had "been before the public for many years and the change is so slight ... it has not seemed worth while to remake the table," but other writers have added this 1744 system and the resulting numbers have otherwise been unchanged and unchallenged until the immediate study.

This history will be of value to historians of business, technology, urban history, public health, law, finance, economics and others, and will be especially valuable for local historians to research and write their own water-works histories.

This documentary history includes information for individual water-works systems from Baker and Croes, along with other primary and secondary sources in the public domain and references to other sources.Information on individual water-works systems will be added chronologically based on the date of first operation.  Additional information, suggestions, questions, and corrections are always welcome and can be submitted to the author of this site at:

Morris A. Pierce
Department of History
364 Rush Rhees Library
University of Rochester
Rochester NY 14627-0070
m.pierce@rochester.edu

Acknowledgements
Many thanks to my daughter Sara for continued inspriration and support in addition to maintaining the web site.

And bountiful thanks are due to the staff of the Interlibrary Loan Office at Rush Rush Library at the University of Rochester, who can deliver the difficult immediately and the impossible later the same day:  Sally Weed, Rose Flickner, Judy Viken, Lynn Galens, and Vera Wasnock


Last updated September 16, 2016


2016 Morris A. Pierce