Geek Trivia

The Modern Drinking Fountain Was Invented To Combat?

Heat Exhaustion
Before Trees Towered Over The Earth, What Did?

Answer: Dysentery

The history of the public drinking fountain is a fascinating one. While public wells and watering holes have existed since prehistory, the first glimmers of the modern water fountain system can be traced back to the Victorian era. There, as part of a push to bring clean water to the poor and combat the spread of cholera, fountains were installed around London so that the poor could drink water from clean wells instead of the putrid water from the River Thames.

Unfortunately, the early designs still weren’t the most hygienic. Some designs featured cups chained to the fountain which people would share and, naturally, spread illness. Others featured designs that encouraged the user to put their mouth on or near the spout. For the most part, even though the designs evolved over time, public drinking fountains remained fairly unhygienic even into the early 20th century.

The design of the modern drinking fountain—a boxy affair with an opening protected by a shield piece that squirts water many inches away from the spout—can be traced back to Halsey Taylor. When working for the Packard Motor Car Company, he noticed many workers falling ill with dysentery. He believed water contamination by shared water sources in the factory was a contributing factor and set out to design a more sanitary way to consume water. Between the outbreak at the car factory and his own personal history—he lost his father to a typhoid outbreak years earlier—Taylor had ample motivation to invent something better.

By 1912, he was manufacturing drinking fountains in his home town of Warren, Ohio. Shortly thereafter, he created his “Double Bubbler” design that shot two arcing streams of water up into the air so that the user could drink the water without putting their mouth onto or near the source. The design proved effective and during the 1920s and 1930s, his company was producing more than 80 percent of the drinking fountains in the United States. The company, Halsey Taylor, still manufactures drinking fountains today and—should you take a moment to inspect the next drinking fountain you use—don’t be surprised to see the company name somewhere on it.

Image courtesy Raysonho/Wikimedia.