Western sanitation was slow to recover from the horrors of the Middle Ages. In Paris, a series of cholera epidemics in the 1830s began the reawakening. A complex system of new sewers (called “Les egouts”) were constructed in the 1840s-1890s and became the pride of Paris. Construction of this system started in 1850, and by 1870 over 500 km of new sewers were either in service or under construction. By 1930, the entire system (a “combined” system) was finished: “One sewer for each street.”

In 1847-48, the British Parliament adopted a sanitary code that applied to all of England and Wales — but not London. The sewer commissioners heard about attributes of the sewerage systems developed by their ancestors on the Isle of Crete and in Greece; those systems served as examples for the designers of the new sewers soon to come in the London area. The years of the “Big Stink” in London (1858 – 59), led to the installation of large new sewers to deliver wastes to the Thames River — but this time, to a discharge point downstream of the Parliament Buildings! Queen Victoria was so excited about the new larger sewer tunnels that she ordered a small rail line to be installed therein to transport people through the sewer.

In the 1840s, the older half of Hamburg, Germany, burned. When that area was rebuilt, a totally new sewer system was designed (by W. Lindley, a distinguished English engineer) and built. It was vented through the roof drains of the connected buildings, and a flushing system was created (once per week utilizing tide water) to clean the new main line sewers. This new design philosophy for the sewering of a major metropolitan area was soon recognized as the model, and, thereafter, was utilized by other cities (in Europe and the United States).

With these advances and the availability of new technology, an explosion of sewer, manhole, pipe, plumbing, and toilet designs began in the late 1800s, leading to our current sewer and treatment systems.

See Tracking Down the Roots of Our Sanitary Sewers, parts 2 – 10 for more information.

“Life in the Sewers,” The Living Age, Volume 5, Issue 48 (April 12, 1845) – reprint from the original article about sewer scavengers in England.

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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.

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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.

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George E. Waring, Jr. “The Draining of a Village,” Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, Vol. 59, Issue 349 (June 1879), pp. 132-135. Courtesy of The Making of America Digital Collection, Cornell University Library.

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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.

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

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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.

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Leonard Metcalf and Harrison P. Eddy, “Introduction: The Lessons Taught by Early Sewerage Works,” American Sewerage Practice, First Edition (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1914), pp. 1-31.

Discusses early design in England and the United States.

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F. E. Turneaure and H. L. Russell, Public Water-Supplies – Requirements, Resources, and the Construction of Works (New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1916) pp. 1-3, 5, 7-14.

See pages 10-12 for section on U.S. history.

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Steven J. Burian, Stephan J. Nix, S. Rocky Durrans, Robert E. Pitt, Chi-Yuan Fan, and Richard Field, “The Historical Development of Wet Weather Flow Management” (Internet publication).

PDF version.

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.

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James L. Foil, Joel A. Cerwick, James E. White, “Collection Systems Past and Present,” Operations Forum Magazine, Volume 10, Number 12 (December 1993). Used with permission.

PDF version.

Petri S. Juuti & Tapio S. Katko (eds.), Water, Time and European Cities – History Matters for the Futures (Tampere University Press, Finland, 2005).  Thanks to Petri Juuti, Ph.D., University of Tampere, Finland.

PDF version.        Also found on University of Tampere website.

Sanitation was chosen as the greatest medical advance since 1840 by the British Medical Journal in January 2007. It even won out over antibiotics.

PDF version of ABC News article.