Clay is one of the most ancient piping materials, with the earliest known example coming from Babylonia (4000 BCE).
In the U.S., vitrified clay pipe (with a salt glazing applied to both the pipe’s interior and exterior surfaces, a “carry-over” process from Europe) was the material of choice for a lot of sewers by the 1880s-1900s. Clay pipe was very heavy by nature. Delivering it required the availability of either rail or water transport. Until those systems developed, clay pipe plants were created in many towns, wherever there was a need and an adequate supply of clay.
See Tracking Down the Roots of Our Sanitary Sewers for more information.
Dickey Clay Manufacturing Company was one of the largest clay pipe manufacturers at the beginning of the 1900s
Knee and t-joints made about 4000 B.C. Found in the excavation of the Temple of Bel at Nippur, Babylonia. Pipe was made of baked clay. Babylonia is often referred to as the birthplace of pipe. Source: Cast Iron Pipe, Standard Specifications Dimensions and Weights (Burlington, New Jersey: United States Cast Iron Pipe & Foundry Co.,1914), p. 13.
A large number of clay water pipes in the ruined city of Ephesus (near modern Selcuk, on the west coast of Turkey). Most pipes are still in the ground. The first buildings in Ephesus were constructed in 2000 BCE, and it grew into a large town by about 1000 BCE. In the richer section of town, houses had cold and hot running water (in winter) and closed sewage disposal to the lower section of town where there were large public toilet facilities (across from the famous library) which were continually flushed with the
This piece of clay pipe was made sometime between 1800 and 1801 and was in continuous use at Mission San Luis Rey (located in modern-day Oceanside, California) until it was removed in the summer of 1957, which makes its active life approximately 157 years. It was made by wrapping sheets or pieces of clay around a mandrel. The delicate spigot was made by rotating a “pencil sharpener-like shaper” at the spigot end. The pipe, after being sun-dried, had the wooden core mandrel removed and was then placed in the kiln for firing. The majority of these pipes were joined by native cement which was manufactured on the Mission grounds, or, in some cases, joined by tar from existing tar seeps. At points where the pipeline crossed low areas, washes, etc., clay pipes were secured to a trestle at a 3 degree to 6 degree pitch by hide thongs. The early mission builders knew that the pipe would leak at the joints, so they positioned roof tiles below the pipe at these crossings. The roof tiles conveyed the leaking water to a bucket for reuse. Source: Courtesy of Father Anthony Soto; Pacific Clay Products; Ed Lamb, NCPE; Mission San Luis Rey Museum.
Minnesota clay pipe, 1883. This piece of clay pipe was in service as a sanitary sewer in Sleepy Eye, Minnesota, from 1883 through 1922. The type of joints used is not known; it is possible that the pieces of pipe were simply abutted up against each other. In the early years, some groundwater inflow was considered good -- it helped to let enough water into the sewer to provide adequate flushing velocities. It is believed that this pipe was initially made and used as drain tiles to drain farm fields to make them more tillable. Upon their removal from the fields, the town of Sleepy Eye purchased the tile to make a sewer out of it. Source: Courtesy of Edward Sikora, National Clay Pipe Institute.
Catalog cover for the Red Wing Stoneware Co. and John H. Rich Sewer Pipe Works of Red Wing, Minnesota, 1894. Source: Facsimile reproduction of 1894 catalog prepared by the Goodhue County Historical Society and the Red Wing Stoneware Company, 1995. All rights reserved. Used with permission of the Goodhue County Historical Society, Red Wing Pottery Sales, Inc. and Red Wing Stoneware Company.
Catalog page advertising the John H. Rich Sewer Pipe Works of Red Wing, Minnesota, 1894. Source: Facsimile reproduction of 1894 catalog prepared by the Goodhue County Historical Society and the Red Wing Stoneware Company, 1995. All rights reserved. Used with permission of the Goodhue County Historical Society, Red Wing Pottery Sales, Inc. and Red Wing Stoneware Company.
Hardened clay sewer pipe being removed from a kiln – following many days/weeks of hardening (i.e., vitrifying) in a kiln heated with either wood or coal to a temperature of approx. 1200 degrees F. Each piece of the glazed clay pipe had to be handled carefully by hand. The smaller kilns were more effective in the early years because their size (compared to larger ones) helped to facilitate the uniform distribution of the heated air to all parts of the kiln. Source: Photo property of Jon Schladweiler
This is an image of the advertising for the Southern Sewer Pipe Company of Birmingham, Alabama. Circa: Late 1800’s. Their products ranged from farm drain tile, to well casing/curbing, to sewer and plumbing clay pipe. Note the availability of “double strength” clay pipe– the second of two strengths available in the early years to help accommodate different/heavier loadings inthe trench. Source: Jon C. Schladweiler