General Bibliography of American Water-works

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

General Bibliography of American Water-Works

This bibliography includes works of a general nature about waterworks.  Books and articles that cover a single system, state, or region (such as New England)  are included in their respective geographic page.  Links to texts that are available on line will be included.

A note about on-line books and journals -- The decision by Google and others to scan old books and put them on line has completely upended the job of the historian, making it both easier and more challenging.  The sheer volume of information can be very daunting, and it can be frustrating to locate individual volumes of old journals.  As a general rule, anything published in the United States prior to 1923 is now in the public domain and an enormous amount of material has been digitized and put on line.  The major sources are:

Google Books - This site has the best user interface but no rational indexing structure, making it very difficult to find certain items.  Links to specific books and journals are included below and elsewhere in this web site, with a Google Book link given where available.  Almost all publications in the public domain can be downloaded as PDF files that have optical character recognition (OCR) so they can be searched inside Adobe Acrobat after downloading.
The Internet Archive is a non-profit library of millions of free books, movies, software, music, and more.  This site has a similar but not identical set of publications as Google Books, and and includes many books not found on Google Books.  Books scanned by the Internet Archive look much nicer than those scanned by Google Books, but searching requires using the text or PDF feature.  Links for this site are included for publications not on Google Books.
HathiTrust is a partnership of academic & research institutions, offering a collection of millions of titles digitized from libraries around the world.  Their collection includes most publications from Google Books along with many others can only be found on this site.  The user interface and search features are cumbersome, however, and downloading of PDF files is limited if you are not a member of a partner institution.  One big advantage of HathiTrust is that journals (such as Engineering News) are listed in one place, although there may be several entries for a given journal.  A link to this site is given where no other site has the specific work.
Other sites such as JSTOR have many relevant documents, especially journals relating to water works, but requires a subscription. 

This Day in Water History A little bit of water history–one day at a time

Lists of Water Works - One of the major challenges of water works history is identifying the works that existed at any given time, which is the primary reason for this documentary history. 

1838 "Water Works," from Sketch of the civil engineering of North America: comprising remarks on the harbours, river and lake navigation, lighthouses, steam-navigation, water-works, canals, roads, railways, bridges, and other works in that country by David Stevenson.  Includes information on water works in Philadelphia, Richmond, Pittsburg, Montreal, Cincinnati, Albany, Troy, New York, and Boston.

1859 "Water Works" from Sketch of the civil engineering of North America, Second Edition, by David Stevenson.  Reprint of the 1838 edition with added material on water works in New York and Washington.

The American Gas-Light Journal was first published on July 1, 1859, and was "devoted to light, water-supply and sewerage."  In addition to publishing numerous articles about water works, the Journal published two lists of "Water-Works of the United States and British-North-American Possessions" in its second volume, one on November 1, 1860 (2:132-133) and the second (and last, apparently) on January 1, 1861 (2:202-203), for which a summary (2:205) was provided in the same issue.  They also published a list of water works in Confederate states on November 1, 1861 (3:138).  These  lists are not very complete, but do include an 1853 system in Sing-Sing, New York that does not appear in any later list of water works, which suggests that later compilers were unaware of this early effort.
Indexes to annual volumes of The American Gas Light Journal: | Volume 1 | Volume 2 | Volume 3 | Volume 4 | Volume 5 | Volume 6 | Volume 7 |
All water works articles from these volumes have been scanned and will be included on the appropriate page.

1862 "Water Works," from The American annual cyclopedia and register of important events: Embracing political, civil, military, and social affairs: public documents; biography, statistics, commerce, finance, literature, science, agriculture, and mechanical industry, Volume 2.  Includes detailed information on water works in Boston, Brooklyn, Cincinnati, Detroit, New Haven, New York City, and Philadelphia.

Apart from the 1860 and 1861 lists by the American Gas-Light Journal mentioned above, the first attempt to list all American water works was published in 1876 by the Committee on water works of the Centennial Commission of the American Society of Civil Engineers, chaired by John James Robertson Croes.  This motivated several individuals to prepare lists of water works, with the most prolific being Edward Prince, a water works engineer from Quincy, Illinois who published annual lists from 1877 to 1881. His 1880 list was published in Engineering News, 7:305 (September 11, 1880), and the 1881 list was published in Engineering News 8:65 (February 12, 1881) and reprinted by the Continental Meter Company in a sales pamphlet, Pure Water Supply and its Preservation. The latter also includes some other useful information on water pressures and rates in various systems in addition to use of water meters.  Engineering News published his 1881 list "with such corrections and additions as have been discovered during the past year" as "A List of Water Works in the United States and Canada, as far as its known, January 1882," in Engineering News 9:29 (January 28, 1882)

Two other lists were published in 1878, but neither has been found.  Data from these lists was included in the 1883 Croes list (see below).
1878 Information Relating to Fire Hydrants, Water Pressures, &c, in the Water Works of the United States and Canada, Ithaca Water Works Company, E. M. Treman, Secretary
1878 A Table of General Information Concerning the Water Works of the United States and Canada, C. G. Hildreth, Secretary of the Holly Manufacturing Co., Lockport, N. Y.

1879 A Comprehensive Treatise on the Water Supply of Cities and Towns, by William Humber.  A reprint of the 1876 edition published in England with hundreds of illustrations.  This book describes water works in Great Britain but was very useful for American engineers and others.

1880 "Engineering Progress in the United States," by Octave Chanute, read May 25, 1880, Transactions of the American Society of Civil Engineers.  Includes an early history of water works in America, which was reprinted in Engineering News, 7:321 (September 25, 1880)

A good article, "Water Supply Statistics," was published by The Sanitary Engineer 4(23):i-ii (November 1, 1881)

1882 "The Water-Supply of Certain Cities and Towns of the United States," by Walter G. Elliot, C. E., Ph. D., Special Agent, from Statistics of power and machinery employed in manufactures: reports on the water-power of the United States, Part 2, by W. P. Trowbridge, Chief Special Agent, United States. Census Office. 10th census, 1880 (1887).  This very detailed report is organized by type, including gravity, direct pumping, stand-pipes, reservoirs, pumping by water-power, and various combinations of these.  | Another copy |  

On January 8, 1881, Engineering News announced that "We will begin on March 1 the publication in Engineering News of a work entitled "The History and Statistics of American Water-Works,"  by J. James R. Croes, Mem. Am. Soc. C. E. This publication will be continued weekly, and it is expected that it will be about a year in publication and occupy 100 pages of the paper. It is intended to comprise an historical sketch of the inception and progress of all works of water supply in the United States and Canada, with a description of the peculiar features of each, and such data as can be obtained respect in both the success and the failure of various structures, and modes of construction and operation." Engineering News 8:11  (January 8, 1881)

On January 15, 1881, Engineering News added "In 1877, '78 and '79, we published very full histories and descriptions of several leading water-works, especially those of Boston, Quebec, and Cleveland: in 1878 and '79 we published in book form the great work of Wm. Humber on water supply, which previously had been obtainable by but a very few, by reason of its great cost, which enterprise of ours has been most warmly appreciated by the profession." Engineering News 8:21  (January 15, 1881)

The first of Croes' entries was for New York City published March 5, 1881, prefaced by "In the following pages will be found historical sketches of the construction and operation of the works for supplying water to the towns in the United States and Canada, compiled from information furnished by the officers of those works either directly or through their printed reports.  The works of the 21 cities of more than 100,000 inhabitants are first described, in the order of their population, according to the last census, followed by tabular statements of the, cost, consumption, operating expenses, revenue, rates and other principal features of value for comparison. Similar descriptions of groups of towns according to their population.with comparative tables, follow. Separate chapters show the comparative condition and efficiency of the various modes of supply and method of operation and management, irrespective of the size of the towns. Unexecuted projects for supplying towns are, as a rule, not mentioned."  Engineering News 8:91  (March 5, 1881)

On September 3, 1881, Engineering News (8:351) published an article giving some background to Croes' work and listing the first 81 cities whose history had been published, along with the plan to complete the work.

The expectation that it would only take a year to publish this information turned out to be optimistic, and information on 812 systems was published through 1886.  Croes published three summaries of his work from 1883 to 1887, plus an 1884 supplement:
1883 Statistical Tables of American Water Works, First Issue, information on 793 systems
1884 List of water-works, supplemental to the first issue of statistical tables of American water-works. May, 1884.
1885 Statistical Tables of American Water Works, Second Issue, information on 989 systems, with 97 others not responding.
1887 Statistical Tables of American Water Works, Third Issue, information on 1,402 systems
Page 4:  The rapid increase in the number of water-works constructed within the last sixteen years is mainly due to the competition of enterprising business men. About the year 1870 Mr. Birdsill Holly, of Lockport New York, a builder of pumping engines, began an active canvass of the towns which had no water supply, with the view of furnishing a type of engine and pump manufactured by him by which the supply was pumped directly into the mains without the use of a reservoir, and at any desired pressure variable at the will of the engineer, thus enabling the whole pipe system to be used as a fire engine if necessary. By organizing a private corporation to build works, and asking from the public only a certain fixed annual subsidy based on the number of fire hydrants furnished and guaranteed to deliver on demand a fire stream under 100 pounds pressure, the Holly Company were able to induce many towns to allow water-works to be built.  [Holly certainly induced many towns to build water-works, but the majority of them were built and owned by municipalities.  The Holly Manufacturing Company only held two franchises for water works that were built. (See additional comments in the 1980 reference below.)]

The 1883 issue includes information from the 1878 Treman and Holly Manufacturing Company lists (mentioned above).   The 1883 and 1885 issues are awkward to use as information on individual systems is given in two tables.  The first table lists systems in alphabetical order by the name of the city, and includes two numbers, one referencing a second table that is arranged according to the population from the 1880 census "so that cities of similar size could be easily compared."  The second number is a reference to the sequence number of individual articles Croes published in Engineering News (New York City being number 1) so this is not very valuable in locating the article, further complicated by the fact that he used Roman numerals in the individual articles until 1884.  The 1887 issue combines the data into a single table that is organized alphabetically by state and then by city, but does not include the reference to the individual articles.  The 1887 issue also includes Croes' views on the reasons behind the rapid expansion of water works since 1870.   

Croes evidently decided to devote more time to his engineering practice and the work of counting water works fell into the hands of Moses Nelson Baker.  Baker had received his bachelor's degree in Philosophy from the University of Vermont in 1886 and was hired as assistant editor for Engineering News in August, 1887.  He was given the task of continuing Croes' work that would be published in annual volumes.  And, just as Croes had discovered, this was an optimistic goal but Baker stuck with it for four volumes and along the way became and expert in water works engineering.  He received a degree in civil engineering from the University of Vermont in 1899 and worked as an editor at Engineering News for forty-five years.

Manual of American Water Works, by Moses Nelson Baker on Google Books Note:  Some of these volumes have missing or illegible pages, so multiple copies are shown were available.  There are other copies available on Google Books,, and  The 1897 issue includes references to Engineering News articles by Croes and others, but other material has been edited out to keep the book at a manageable length.  The 1888 and 1897 volumes will generally provide comprehensive knowledge about individual water works systems, but in some cases additional information is only found in the 1889-90 and 1892 volumes.  There are also several instances where information from Croes' articles in Engineering News was copied incorrectly into these volumes.  Information was largely supplied by current system operators, so it is not surprising that a lot of early historical information did not find its way into this work.  Despite these minor shortcomings this is a monumental work, and the intention of this documentary history is fill in these gaps. expand the information, and to make it more accessible.

Volume 1 1888 | Another copy
Volume 2 1889-90 | copy | HathiTrust copy |
Volume 3 1891 | Another copy
Volume 4 1897 | Another copy

Baker also wrote the seminal 1949 book The quest for pure water; the history of water purification from the earliest records to the twentieth century.

The Municipal Journal published a list of several hundred water works in 1912:  "Water Works Statistics of American Cities," Municipal Journal 32:949-946 (June 30, 1912), Latest Data from Several Hundred Water Works Superintendents, Giving Source and Method of Supply, Method of Treatment, Population Supplied, Consumption, Percentage Metered and Cost of Supplying Water.

The 1915 McGraw Waterworks Directory, which listed 5,185 towns in the United States and Canada with water works.  This was advertised as the first annual edition, but it appears that it was the only one.  This work does not include any historical information, but is a good resource about the systems that existed in 1915.

2013 "Corporation formation in the antebellum United States in comparative context," by Robert E. Wright and Richard E. Sylla, Business History. 55(4):650-666 (June 2013). 

2015 "US Corporate Development 1790-1860," by Robert E. Wright and Richard E. Sylla. Provides of list of 22,419 corporations created in the United States between 1790 and 1860 by special laws.  This is a very useful  list that includes business type such as "utility, water."  About 500 charters for companies that distributed water are included, but the business type also includes companies that provided water power but not water distribution.  The list is fairly complete and includes at least 90% of water works charters granted by special laws during this period, but missing ones include several early water companies in Tennessee.  This history includes copies of all water works charters and as time permits a summary list of them may be provided.

General books and articles about water works history
There are many books and articles about individual water systems, which are included on their respective pages, but few have been written about the overall history of American water works.  A few of the better ones are listed here:

1956 Water for the Cities:  A History of the Urban Water Supply Problem in the United States, by Nelson Manfred Blake. | Also on HathiTrust |  This excellent history covers Boston, New York City, Baltimore, and Philadelphia. Blake (1908-1996) was a historian at Syracuse University and his book has stood up well over 60 years.

1976 "Historical Development of Municipal Water Systems in the United States 1776 — 1976," J. Michael LaNier, Journal of the American Water Works Association, Vol. 68, No. 4, Water: Spirit of'76 (April 1976), pp. 173-180.   "This material will appear in "History of Public Works in the US - 1776-1976" a bicentennial project of APWA, 1976"

1976 "Community Water Systems" from History of public works in the United States, 1776-1976 Chapter 8, 217-246, edited by Ellis L. Armstrong, Michael C. Robinson, and Suellen M. Hoy

1980 "Triumph and failure: The American response to the urban water supply problem, 1860–1923" by Stuart Galishoff,  in Pollution and reform in American cities, 1870–1930, ed. Martin Melosi, 35–57.  This article covers water works in Atlanta, Chicago, and Newark.

1980 “The Diffusion of Technology in the Nineteenth Century American City: Municipal Water Supply Investments,” Letty Donaldson Anderson (PhD dissertation, Northwestern University, 1980)
Page 22:  By 1878 the Holly system reportedly was in use in more than 70 towns. At the time of Holly's death in 1894 the company, which had a capitalized value of one million dollars and 500 employees, was reported to have installed the Holly system or Holly pumps in over 2000 cities and towns in the U.S. and Canada.
Page 115:  The "franchise system" mentioned in the Engineering News editorial [
Engineering News. 17:140, February 26, 1887] was a result of the development in the late 1860s of standard water works pumping engines, most notably those of the Holly and Washington companies. These equipment manufacturers actively sought franchises for municipal systems in the early 1870s and succeeded rapidly; by 1878, 105 towns had installed Worthington engines or systems, and 70 towns had Holly systems.  [Worthington never sought or received a water works franchise, in 1876 he wrote: "the writer's connection with Water-works is limited to the Pumping machinery."  Holly actively promoted his direct pressure system and offered turnkey design and construction services, but the company never sought or received a franchise before he left the company in 1876.  The Holly Manufacturing Company afterwards secured two franchises for systems that were constructed:  Adrian, Michigan in 1883, and Hutchinson, Kansas in 1885.  By 1895, about 125 Holly systems had been built, while the company had sold 494 pumping engines, compared with 1,192 pumping engines sold by Worthington through 1892.]

1984 "The Evolution of the Urban Infrastructure in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries," by Joel A. Tarr, from Perspectives on Urban Infrastructure, Royce Hanson, Editor.
Page 32: Facilitating the distribution of these improved methods throughout the urban network were the marketing practices of the two largest pump manufactures (Holly and Worthington), who offered municipalities an entire water package including source recommendations, engineering and construction plans, and pumps. These two corporations secured franchises for their systems in thousands of towns and cities (Anderson, 1980: 12–23).

1985 "Water, Electricity and Cable Television: A Study of Contrasting Historical Patterns of Ownership and Regulation", by Joel A. Tarr, Steven Klepper, Charles Jacobson in Cahier / Groupe Réseaux 1(3):2-31 (1985)
Page 3:  An important development in the late 19th and early 20th centuries involved the relationships that developed between many municipalities and the two largest firms
manufacturing pump and distribution equipment, the Holly Manufacturing Company and the Worthington Pump Manufacturing Company. These firms actively solicited water franchises. In hundreds of towns they constructed works at their own expense in exchange for franchises. Often the franchises guaranteed them an annual rent from the city in exchange for providing a specified number of fire hydrants. However, rather than manage these franchises, they usually sold the-n to other groups of investors. The success of Holly and Worthington led to the entry into the market of other private construction firms and the development of a competitive market for equipment supply and construction. [Citation: Engineering News. Feb. 26. 1887]

1994 "The Development of Water Works in the United States," by Charles D. Jacobson and Joel A. Tarr, in Aqueducts by  André Guillerme, in Rassegna: Themes in Architecture 57:37-41 (March 1994)
Page 38:  In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, municipalities and the two largest firms (Holly and Worthington) manufacturing pump and distribution equipment often formed relationship.  These firms actively solicited water franchises, and in hundreds of towns they constructed works at their own expense in exchange for the franchise.

1999 "Water Supply, Waste Disposal, and the Culture of Privatism in the Mid-Nineteenth-Century American City", Maureen Ogle, Journal of Urban History  25: 321-347 (March 1999)

2000 "Pure and plentiful: the development of modern waterworks in the United States, 1801–2000", Martin V Melosi, Water Policy 2:243-265 (2000)

2000 The Sanitary City:  Urban Infrastructure in America from Colonial Times to the Present, Martin V. Melosi

2013 City Water, City Life: Water and the Infrastructure of Ideas in Urbanizing Philadelphia, Boston, and Chicago, by Carl Smith

1826 Journal of the Franklin Institute  | Achive at 1826 to present | Index to volumes 1-120 | Many volumes are also on Google Books |.

1845 Scientific American | Archive at 1845 to present |

1874 Engineering News

1881 American Water Works Association

1882 New England Water Works Association

1890 Municipal Engineering

Technical Reference Works
1835 A treatise on water-works for conveying and distributing supplies of water; with tables and examples, by Charles Storrow.

1869 Report on the Filtration of River Waters, for the Supply of Cities, as Practised in Europe: Made to the Board of Water Commissioners of the City of St. Louis, by James P. Kirkwood

1877 A practical treatise on water-supply engineering relating to the hydrology, hydrodynamics, and practical construction of water-works, in North America. With numerous tables and illustrations, by John Thomas Fanning.  This book went through many revisions.

1896 The Filtration of Public Water Supplies, by Allen Hazen | 1905 Third Edition, Revised and Enlarged | First Edition |

1897 Water Supply, Considered Principally from a Sanitary Standpoint, by William P. Mason

1898 The Purification of Public Water Supplies, by John W. Hill

1899 Elements of Water Supply Engineering by E. Sherman Gould

1899 Examination of water: (Chemical and bacteriological), by William Pitt Mason.

1899 The Microscopy of Drinking Water, by George Chandler Whipple

1899 The Venturi Water Meter, by Clemens Herschel

1911 Public Water-supplies: Requirements, Resources, and the Construction of Works, Second Edition, Revised and Enlarged, by Frederick Eugene Turneaure, Harry Luman Russell, Daniel Webster Mead

© 2017 Morris A. Pierce