Documentary History of American Water-works

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

Technology Standpipes


Standpipes refer to two separate technologies used in water systems.  The original use was to describe cylindrical towers used to maintain water pressure for distribution systems, while more recently the term describes dedicated piping systems within buildings used for fire fighting.  Standpipes were used to provide pressure for a water distribution system as well as protecting against water hammer from pumping. 

The earliest known standpipe was built in Germantown, Pennsylvania in 1851, and operated until 1872.  A picture was taken of this standpipe being raised.

Over time they were replaced with elevated reservoirs, tanks, or direct pressure pumping.

1851 Raising the stand pipe for the Germantown Water Works
View showing the engineering crew using a windlass to raise the standpipe in a large field at the corner of Tulpehocken Street and Wayne Avenue on August 13, 1851.

1888 "Stand-Pipes for Water Works," by B. F. Stephens, Report of Proceedings of the Eighth Annual Meeting of the American Water Works Association 8:102-113

1888 "Stand Pipes for Water-Works," by B. F. Stephens, Engineering News, 20:271-273 (October 6, 1888)

1888 "A Partial List of Stand-pipes of the United States," from Manual of American Water Works, Volume 1. [Note:  this list was not scanned in any known electronic version of this volume."
Their heights, diameters, thickness and other details of construction.  Classified first in order of diameters and secondly in order of heights.

1895 Stand-pipe Accidents and Failures in the United States: A Chronological Record of Accidents to and Failures of Water-works Stand-pipes in the United States, by William David Pence.

1980 The Architecture and Engineering of Elevated Water Storage Structures: 1870-1940, by Carol Ann Dubie, M. A. Thesis, George Washington University.  Thanks to the author for allowing this valuable resource to be scanned and included in this history.

Existing Standpipes

Year City State Height (Feet)
1859 Chestnut Hill PA 125 Not strictly a standpipe, but a 40,000 gallon wooden tank on top of a brick tower.
Purchased by Philadelphia in 1873, wooden tank damaged in a 1917 windstorm and removed.
1860 Louisville KY 183 Louisville Water Tower, destroyed by tornado in 1890 and was rebuilt. Retired in 1909.
1869 Chicago IL 154
Chicago Water Tower  is 154 feet tall, covering a 138-foot standpipe
1870 Boston MA 70 Roxbury Standpipe, taken out of service in 1909.
1874 Milwaukee WI 175 North Point Water Tower Taken out of service in 1963.
1871 St. Louis MO 154
Grand Avenue Water Tower ("Old White"), retired in 1912
1886 St Louis MO 194
Bissell Street Water Tower ("Old Red"), retired in 1912
1887 Harper KS 125 Historic place nomination
1897 Bangor ME 50 Thomas Hill Standpipe. Still in service, enclosed in a wooden tower 110 feet tall.
1898 St. Louis MO 179
Compton Hill Water Tower, retired in 1929.

2016 Morris A. Pierce