Even without an understanding of germs, many ancient civilizations had a good understanding of the need for careful sewage disposal, but this knowledge was lost or ignored in the Middle Ages in Europe. The result was terrible sanitary conditions, polluted waterways, and periodic outbreaks of disease.

One of the greatest advances of the modern era was the recognition that disease could be caused by pathogens, and that poor sanitary conditions were a prime culprit in the spread of disease. Sanitary engineers in the nineteenth century were in the forefront of developing sanitary sewer systems that protected the public from epidemics of cholera and other water-borne illness.

See Tracking Down the Roots of Our Sanitary Sewers, Parts 1-5, for more information.

For Reference

John Snow Archive and Research Companion for literature, graphics and information about John Snow and the struggle to end cholera in London. Also see the UCLA John Snow webpage.

School of Civil Engineering (University of Leeds) history website for links and information about disease and sanitation.

Delivery of water and sanitation services to the poor in nineteenth century Britain.

For extensive information about Victorian London, see  the comprehensive website at www.victorianlondon.org. There is a large section about Sanitation under “Health and Hygiene.” Also see “Disease.” A huge thanks goes to Lee Jackson, the creator of the website, for this impressive collection of original materials.

The National Library of Medicine photo archives includes sanitation posters, Cholera Online, and many other topics.

Also on Sewerhistory.org

See graphics and poems.

George E. Waring, Jr., “Chapter XI: House Drainage and Town Sewerage in Their Relations to the Public Health,” Draining for Profit and Draining for Health (New York: Orange Judd & Co., 1867),           pp. 222-239.

PDF version (printer-friendly).

George E. Waring, Jr., “Village Sanitary Work,” Scribner’s Monthly, Vol. XIV, No. 2 (June 1877), pp. 176-187. Courtesy of The Making of America Digital Collection, Cornell University Library.

PDF version (printer-friendly).

Edward S. Philbrick, “Lecture I: Introductory,” American Sanitary Engineering (New York: The Sanitary Engineer, 1881), pp. 1-15.

PDF version (printer-friendly).

See Design – before 1900 for other lectures from this book.

George E. Waring, Jr., “Sanitary Drainage,” The North American Review, Vol. 137, Issue 320 (July 1883), pp. 57-67. Courtesy of The Making of America Digital Collection, Cornell University Library.

PDF version (printer-friendly).

Samuel M. Gray, Proposed Plan for a Sewerage System, and for the Disposal of the Sewage of the City of Providence (Providence: Providence Press Company, Printers to the City, 1884), Appendix A, pp. 3-116 and Plates I – XVI and XXIII.

PDF version (printer-friendly).

J. S. Billings, M.D., “Sewage Disposal in Cities,” Harper’s Magazine, Volume 71, Issue 424 (Sept. 1885), pp. 577-584.

PDF version (printer-friendly).

Cyrenus Wheeler, Jr. (Mayor of Auburn, New York), “Sewers: Ancient and Modern; with an Appendix,” a paper read before the Cayuga County Historical Society on December 14, 1886. From the Collections of the Cayuga County Historical Society, 5 (1887), pp. 3-41, plates 1, 3, 7, 10, 12, 16, 17, 19, 20, 21, 22.

PDF version (printer-friendly).

Ess E. Tee, “Management of Out-Houses,” The Manufacturer and Builder, Volume 22, Issue 7 (July 1890), p. 164.

PDF version (printer-friendly).

G. H. Benzenberg, “The Sewerage System of Milwaukee and the Milwaukee River Flushing Works,” Transactions of the American Society of Civil Engineers, Volume XXX (December 1893), pp. 367-385 and plates I-III. Used with permission of ASCE and EWRI.

PDF version – Pages 367-385.
PDF version – Plates I-III.

G. H. Benzenberg, F. P. Stearns, D. J. Whittemore, “The Sewerage System of Milwaukee — Discussion on Paper No. 651,” Transactions of the American Society of Civil Engineers, Volume XXX (December 1893), pp. 709-711. Used with permission of ASCE and EWRI.

PDF version (printer-friendly).

Cady Staley and Geo. S. Pierson, The Separate System of Sewerage, Its Theory and Construction, Third Edition (New York: D. Van Nostrand, Co., 1899), pp. 17-38.

Chapter I: “Introduction” (pp. 17-38). PDF version (printer-friendly).

For other chapters, see Design before 1900.

Colonel E. C. S. Moore, “Introduction, Chapter I, Chapter II, Chapter III,” Sanitary Engineering, Volume I, 3rd Edition revised by E. J. Silcock (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Company, 1909), pp. 1-69.

“Introduction” (pp. 1-4)PDF version (printer-friendly).

For other chapters, see Design – 1900 and later.

Leonard B. Kinnicutt, C.-E. A. Winslow, and R. Winthrop Pratt, Sewage Disposal, First Edition (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1910).

“Introduction” (pp. xvii-xxvi) PDF version (printer-friendly).

For other chapters, see Sewage Treatment.

Friench Simpson, “Rat Proofing a Municipal Sewer System: A Report of an Investigation to Find a Practical Method of Rat Proofing the Sewer System of San Francisco,” Public Health Reports, Vol. XXVII, No. 44 (31 Oct. 1913), pp. 2283-2289.

PDF version (printer-friendly).

Jamie Benidickson, Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa, “Ontario Water Quality, Public Health, and the Law, 1880-1930.”  From G. Blaine Baker and Jim Phillips, editors, Essays in the History of Canadian Law in Honour of R.C.B. Risk (Osgoode Society for Legal History, 1999). Used with permission.

 

Steven J. Burian, Stephan J. Nix, Robert E. Pitt, S. Rocky Durrans, “Urban Wastewater Management in the United States: Past, Present, and Future,” Journal of Urban Technology, Volume 7, Number 3 (December 2000), pp. 33-62. Used with permission.

See pp. 39-40 for discussion of disease related to sanitation in the United States.

PDF version (printer-friendly).

Michael Kelly, M.D., editor, “First Annual Report of the Board of Health of the City of San Diego for the Year Ending December 31st, 1888,” Journal of San Diego History, Vol. 48, No. 4 (Fall 2002, online edition).

 

Jon C. Schladweiler, “1300’s – Late 1500’s: Sir John Harrington’s New Ajax (The True Roots of the Modern Day Flush Toilet) with Impetus Provided to John Harington by Queen Elizabeth, ‘The Schoole of Salerne,’ and ‘The Englishmans Doctor’,” 2004.

This includes a rare 14th century Italian treatise on sanitation, which throws light on contradictory aspects of sanitation in the Middle Ages – a mix of common sense, herbal lore, and superstition.

PDF version.

For Reference

For extensive information about Victorian London, see  the comprehensive website at www.victorianlondon.org. There is a large section about Sewers and Sanitation under “Health and Hygiene,” and  materials can be found under “Diseases” (cholera and typhus) and by searching “sewer”. This website provides a graphic look, in the words and pictures of the time, into the horrible conditions that preceded modern sanitation. A huge thanks goes to Lee Jackson, the creator of the website, for this impressive collection of original materials.