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Tracking down the roots of our sanitary sewers - Sewer history through the ages

 

Site News and Highlights of New Items on Sewerhistory.org

2009

The History of OuthousesDecember 2009 - New Sewer History poster available: The History of Outhouses

Brown AcresOctober 2009 - Author Anna Sklar has provided photos from Brown Acres - An Intimate History of the Los Angeles Sewers. Her book describes the complex and often alarming history of the Los Angeles city sewer system, complete with the relationship between headstrong politicians and the reformers who sought to “heal the bay” after a century of pollution and contamination. Photos include the ocean outfall from LA's original Hyperion plant, the "sewage pier" and building of the new Hyperion Treatment Plant. View the photos here.

May 2009 - The Green Bay Sewage Treatment Plant was built in Green Bay, Wisconsin, in 1933. The plant, expanded in 1936 and the 1950s, has since been demolished. Thanks to Tom Bates for contributing unique photos and design plans of the plant.

February 2009 - The Thunderbox Road Public Art Project features outhouses designed by artists. Thanks to Texas Hill Country editor John Hallowell for information about this unusual event.

2008

October 2008 - New Sewer History poster! The story of Leopold Socha and Stefan Wroblewski, Polish sewer workers who saved a group of Jews during World War II, delivering food and supplies to their refuge in the sewers of Lvov, Poland, for 14 months.

July 2008 - "The Third Man," a 1949 film starring Orson Welles, features a long scene set in the sewers of Vienna, Austria. A Viennese museum celebrates the film, including the unusual manhole design seen in the movie. Brought to our attention by Bobbi Mastrangelo, "The Grate Lady."

May 2008 - Baldwin Latham's Sanitary Engineering, published in 1884.

April 2008 - Samuel M. Gray helped design the Field's Point Sewage Disposal Plant in Providence, Rhode Island, circa 1900. (See his proposed plans.) Paul Nordstrom of the Narragansett Bay Commission and Tom Bates have provided a set of plans and photos of the plant.

January 2008 - A history of the Copenhagen sewer system from IWAP Online

2007

November 2007 - Few people think of the lowly manhole cover as art, but Bobbi Mastrangelo, a Florida artist known as "The Grate Lady," uses the designs and textures of manhole covers to create beautiful sculptures and handmade paper pieces. See some of her work in our Sewers in the Culture section, which features ways that sewers have entered our culture in art, sculpture, literature, music and even a sewer pipe hotel.

New Sewer History Poster Available - See Sewer Pipes Through the Ages.

 

Brussels sewerOctober 2007 - The first modern sewers in Brussels, Belgium, were built in the last half of the 1800s. They are predominantly brick and oval-shaped, similar to sewers in other large European cities of the time. Brussels was unusual, however, in choosing to make the Senne River, heavily polluted from sewage and garbage since the 16th century, into a large covered channel -- essentially turning a river into a permanent sewer. Only in the last few years, after construction of a wastewater treatment plant, has work begun on reclaiming the river and returning it to its former state. Thanks to Vincent Duseigne of Brussels, Belgium, for information about the Brussels sewers and for his large collection of photos of the sewers and sewer workers of Brussels.

 

September 2007 - Will water conservation cause blockage problems with low-slope HCSs and sewers? Some research indicates that low-flow devices may not cause significant problems, but grey water systems which divert wastewater from high-flow appliances like washing machines might. British researchers are investigating the issue, and a British company is developing a low-flow toilet with a new 'displaced-air' flushing principle for toilets (neither vacuum nor compressed air) which reduces the flushing volume to 1.5 litres. The air assisted drainage also overcomes the problem of poor waste transportation with reduced flush volumes. Thanks to Garry Moore, Managing Director of Phoenix Product Development Limited, London.

July/August 2007 - The value of effluent came center-stage in Pima County, Arizona, when the City of Marana sought to withdraw from a governmental agreement and take control of a treatment plant and all its effluent. The county responded by making the treatment plant a park to prevent a take-over. Marana wants the effluent in order to meet state-mandated requirements for renewable water sources to support growth.

June 2007 - Video and stills of a dramatic 1999 incident of storm water erupting out of a storm drain manhole cover.

May 2007 - Another infrastructure disaster when a water main broke in Seattle, Washington, on May 2.

April 2007 - Beit She'an in modern-day Israel was the site of extensive Roman Era construction including baths and latrines. Thanks to Professor Kay Axhausen of Zurich, Switzerland, for her photos of an unusual Roman-era latrine.

March 2007 - The material PVC was invented in 1835 and was first used to make pipe in the 1930s in Germany. We have received an article and timeline about the history of PVC pipe in waters and sewers. Thanks to Steve Cooper and Rober Walker of the Uni-Bell PVC Pipe Association.

February 2007 - Sewers were important enough to Romans during the Roman Empire to have a goddess of sewers - Cloacina. We have posted an article about Cloacina and a sewer history poster featuring her.

Sanitation - the Greatest Medical Advance Since 1840. The importance of sanitation got some recognition last month when the British Medical Journal asked a group of experts what the most important medical advance since 1840 is. Sanitation won the vote over antibiotics and all the advances of the 20th century. See article from ABC News.

2006

December 2006 - Hydrographs are used in sewer monitoring, and often make records of non-sewerage events like football games, holidays, hurricanes and even the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Kevin Enfinger, P.E., has contributed a poster and article showing the tracks these events make in the sewer record.

November 2006 - From "All pipe is to be made of a long hole..." to "All pipes shorter than 1/8" in length are very expensive to use, requiring many joints -- they are generally known as washers, " this Powerpoint show (located under Miscellaneous/Humor) will teach you everything you need to know about pipe, starting with the little known fact that the inside diameter of a pipe should be smaller than the outside diameter. Thanks to Raj Bhattarai, P.E., City of Austin Water Utility, Texas.

October 2006 - Thanks to Tom Bates for a number of U.S. patents from the 1800s, including the Shone and Liernur patents for comprehensive sewer systems and several patents by U.S. inventors for other comprehensive systems (never implemented as far as we know). The patents can be found under Design before 1900 and Sewer Cleaning Equipment. Mr. Bates is a high school student with interests in pump stations, wastewater treatment, ships, and mechanical (hvac and plumbing) systems. He has toured about 40 sewage treatment plants to date and has contributed a number of pump station plans to Sewerhistory in the past.  

September 2006 - Thanks to Petri Juuti, Ph.D., University of Tampere, Finland, for permission to post A Brief History of Wells and Toilets; From a Few to All - Long Term Development of Water and Sanitation Services in Finland; and Water, Time and European Cities. (All can be found under Articles/Finland, also under European history, toilets, and design history.) These excellent books add a tremendous amount of detail to our European history and toilet sections.

August 2006 - A rare find, a movie of an alligator inside a manhole in Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina, will send chills up the spines of sewer maintenance operators everywhere. Thanks to Tim Ware of Garner Environmental Services, Inc.

Thanks to other contributors for some interesting additions: Australian wood water pipes from Geoff Goodfellow, Customer Service and Media Manager, Wingecarribee Shire Counci, Australia; wood water pipes in the Lansing, Michigan, system from Mark Witalec, surveyor for the Lansing Board of Water and Light, and Timothy S. Hogg, Engineering Technician / GIS, Delta Charter Township, Lansing, MI; and a photograph of part of a flush tank from Alejandro Cuero Torres and Sigifredo López Maya, Colombia.

June 2006 - We are very pleased to discover a comprehensive website about Victorian London 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 into the horrible conditions that preceded modern sanitation, in the words and pictures of the time. A huge thanks goes to Lee Jackson, the creator of the website, for this impressive collection of original materials.

See also a rare look into the hazardous life of sewer scavengers in England in the 19th Century. (Located in Articles under "Sewer History by Region/British Isles").

May 2006 - Collection Systems Past and Present, by James L. Foil, Joel A. Cerwick, and James E. White. Thanks to the authors for permission to post this overview of the history of sewer systems. (Located in Articles under "Sewer History by Era.")

The online magazine Slate has an extensive article about sewers and sewage treatment in London.

April 2006 - A comprehensive article on the history of Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) equipment used for pipe maintenance in the United States, courtesy of Larry Corkill, CET, of CUES Canada. The article was presented at the North American Society for Trenchless Technology (NASTT) conference in Nashville, Tennessee, March 26-29, 2006. (Located in Articles under Maintenance, General.)

2005

December 2005 - Note to Internet Explorer users: A previous version of the Google Toolbar popup blocker may be blocking graphics and web pages that open in another window. MOST OF OUR GRAPHICS OPEN THIS WAY. If you cannot open our graphics, either disable the Google Toolbar popup blocker for our site, or install the current version of the toolbar. In our experiments, this solved the problem. Please contact our webmaster if your cannot access our graphics and we will try to help you. Popup blockers should not block graphics that open like ours, but some glitch seems to have caused this to happen.

October 2005 - We are always glad to see wastewater agencies working to preserve their history, so we invite you to look at a recently posted website describing the history of King County's Regional Wastewater Treatment Utility (Seattle, Washington, area). Our compliments to King County staff for this detailed and informative site.

August 2005 - Thanks to Keith Chapman (Willow Lake Treatment Plant, Salem, Oregon) for several photos from Greece and Crete showing ancient sewer, water, and public latrine structures.

More information about wood fibre pipe, including "papier mache" pipe produced in England as recently as the 1950s from shredded newspapers. This must take the award as one of the oddest pipe materials ever used. Jon Schladweiler describes it in his article as a "coal tar impregnated toilet paper tube."

July 2005 - The History Channel will broadcast a Modern Marvels show featuring the history of sewers on Wednesday, July 27th, 2005, and on Saturday, July 30th, 2005. Check local listings for times in your area. www.sewerhistory.org and Jon Schladweiler contributed photos and information to the show.

June 2005 - Plans are underway for the Sewer History Exhibit to be on display at WEFTEC '05 (Oct 30 - Nov 2, 2005) in Washington DC. Thanks to the combined efforts of NASSCO (the National Association of Sewer Service Companies) and WEF (the Water Environment Federation).

May 2005 - "Coal tar impregnated wood fibre pipe" evolved out of water and electrical conduit made since the 1890s with wood fibers. Two of the best-known brands were Orangeburg Pipe and Bermico Pipe. We have expanded our materials on this pipe with an updated article by Jon Schladweiler and several ads from the 1950s for Bermico sewer pipe. Take a look at the Orangeburg photos also.

April 2005 - We have added several chapters of a British sanitation handbook, "Reid's Practical Sanitation," published in 1948. Courtesy of James Joyce, P.E., Technical Director, Odor and Corrosion Technology Consultants, Inc., Houston, Texas. (See February entry for more from Mr. Joyce.)

March 2005 - Being slightly mad, we always enjoy great finds in the toilet literature! The New York Public Library has several digitized catalogs of toilets, baths, latrines and plumbing fixtures from the late 1800s and early 1900s. (More detailed links can be found in our Toilet Photos/Graphics section.) Thanks to our researcher Paul Matty for finding this internet gem.

With permission from the Journal of Urban Technology, we have added "Urban Wastewater Management in the United States: Past, Present, and Future," by Steven J. Burian, Stephan J. Nix, Robert E. Pitt, and S. Rocky Durrans. This excellent article covers the 1800s on, and includes discussions of early privy/cesspool usage, disease control measures, and separate and combined sewer systems in the United States.

Sewerhistory.org has been awarded the Talking Hands Award for First Quarter 2005. This award hightlights web authors "who through their creative excellence provide a web site which teaches, contains teaching elements in sufficient detail, and otherwise leave a visitor with something of significant value after returning to their normal daily activities."

February 2005 - We have added a book about the history of London sewerage: Main Drainage of London, by Sir George W. Humphreys (1930). Courtesy of James Joyce, P.E., Technical Director, Odor and Corrosion Technology Consultants, Inc., Houston, Texas. Large accompanying plans can be found here.

January 2005 - An article about John Harington (the inventor of a valve closet toilet design in the 1500s), including a rare 14th century treatise on sanitation called "The School of Salernum," which throws light on contradictory aspects of sanitation in the Middle Ages - a mix of common sense, herbal lore, and superstition.

2004

November 2004 - Several chapters from "The Separate System of Sewerage" by Cady Staley and Geo. Pierson, 1899.

October 2004 - A number of new articles in our California sewer history section.

September 2004 - We have expanded our section on Paris with several brochures and posters about the Paris sewer system, courtesy of Bruno de Ville d'Avray, Mairie de Paris / Direction de la protection de l'environnement, Section de l'assainissement de Paris; and Lucien Finel, previous Deputy to the Mayor of Paris (in charge of water and sanitation management).

AECPortico, one of the UK's leading directories for architecture, engineering and construction resources, chose Sewerhistory.org as Site of the Week.

aecportico is one of the UK's leading directories for architecture,

August 2004 - Two poems from the late 1500s: one describes a conversation between a devil and a priest about praying on the toilet, and the other praises the author's toilet design. They were written by Sir John Harington, the inventor of the valve closet, an early toilet design. He also wrote a fanciful book describing his toilet design.

Sewers in the News - Sinkhole caused by a broken sewer interceptor in Michigan.

July 2004 - Sewerhistory.org got some recognition this month. First, we were chosen as the Yahoo website pick of the day on July 6. On July 30, the Internet Scout Project, a site that keeps people informed of valuable resources on the web, added our site to its recommendations.

June 2004 - Two unusual photos showing snakes and an alligator encountered during utility construction in Orlando, Florida.

April 2004 - Articles about several comprehensive piping and sewage collection systems from the late 1800s and early 1900s. The Berlier System used in Paris (see Samuel M. Gray, pp. 26-30), the Liernur System used in Holland (see Samuel M. Gray, pp. 22-26), and the Shone System developed in England (see the Manufacturer and Builder, ASCE Transactions, and Samuel M. Gray, pp. 30-33) all utilized pneumatic pressure to lift sewage and deliver it to collection centers. The Parmley System (United States) was a modular method of pipe construction.

March 2004 - Japanese sewer history and modern technology and a timeline of Japanese sewer history.

2003

December 2003 - Sewers are in the news with a bus that drove into a large sinkhole in Lisbon, Portugal, and the introduction of Japanese luxury toilets in the U.S.

October 2003 - Two engraved Scientific American covers from the 1880s and 1890s illustrating construction of large sewers in New York. These are works of art in addition to their historical interest.

July 2003 - Photos and an article about two sinkholes on a main thoroughfare in Tucson, Arizona, in September 2002. Damage to a 42" interceptor caused millions of gallons of discharge into a local river, and a $7 million repair job.

June 2003 - A new section called "Sewers in the news." Recent stories include the Microsoft iLoo -- an internet-enabled portable toilet -- and stolen Taiwanese manhole covers appearing in China.

April 2003 - A large number of U.S. patents related to sewers. Most can be found under "Manholes," "Manhole cover history," and "Sewer cleaning equipment" in the Articles and Photos/Graphics sections

2002

Aedile Award plaque

Tracking Down the Roots of Our Sanitary Sewers receives the Public Works Historical Society's Aedile Award

In September 2002, Jon Schladweiler received the Aedile Award for outstanding contributions toward the collection, preservation and dissemination of public works history for his oral presentation, "Tracking Down the Roots of Our Sanitary Sewers." The award was presented at the American Public Works Association's 2002 International Public Works Congress and Exhibition, in Kansas City, Missouri.


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