Encyclopedia o f Chicago
Interpretive Digital Essay : Water in Chicago
Essay: People and the Port
Photo Essays:
Solitary Lives
City of Bridges
Chicago Harbors
Essay: Using the Chicago River
Photo Essays:
Goose Island
Indiana Dunes
Essay: Sanitation in Chicago
Photo Essays:
The Sanitary and Ship Canal
Water-Related Epidemics
Essay: Water and Urban Life
Photo Essays:
Houses and Water
Shoreline Development
Growing Up Along Water
Houses and Water

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Emergence of Plumbers and Specialized Fixtures

While the growing availability of water connections in urban areas like Chicago made indoor plumbing possible by the mid-nineteenth century, it was not until the early twentieth century that modern bathrooms and kitchens became standard features of Chicago houses. The demand for indoor plumbing led some metal-working craftsmen to specialize, and plumbers emerged from the ranks of these more general craftsmen. At first they made their own fittings, as well as installing them. But by the early twentieth century, manufacturers specializing in plumbing fixtures had emerged across the country. Mass production brought lower costs, bringing indoor plumbing into more modest housing.

Robert Forsyth's Plumbing Store, 169 State Street, 1868-1869

The window display of this plumber’s store shows the early plumbing fixtures. Note that these early sinks were simple water basins with holes in their centers to accommodate a drainage pipe. The faucets shown in the bottom window contrast strikingly with the pump just below the window on the outside right of the building.

See also: Construction; Building Trades and Workers

House Sanitation Diagram

This 1912 diagram shows the growing uses for water within houses. Water is pumped to a tank at the top of the house, then supplies a variety of fixtures through gravity, including a water closet (w.c.), wash bowl, bath tub, foot tub, kitchen sink, laundry tubs, and a hot water boiler. Particular care in this image is also given to the drain pipes which needed to be properly aired to avoid noxious odors indoors.

See also: Housekeeping; Housing Types; Building Codes and Standards

Industrial Chicago: The Building Interests

A national master plumber’s association was organized in 1880 with chapters in cities like Chicago. The association regulated apprenticeships and provided its membership with the latest information about plumbing technology. Local governments began to demand licensing of plumbers and equipment, to protect residents from substandard work. This discussion, drawn from the second volume of the 1891 Industrial Chicago, dealt with among other things, plumbing arrangements in Chicago.

See also: Construction; Water Supply; Building Codes and Standards

Thomas Kelly & Bros., 1893 and 1898 Catalogues

By the 1890s, Chicago companies were manufacturing specialized plumbing fixtures. Some are familiar to the modern eye, while others never became popular.

See also: Construction; Business of Chicago; Building Trades and Workers

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