All the modern conveniences: American household plumbing, 1840-1870
During the middle decades of the nineteenth century Americans engaged in a variety of reform activities, one of which was an effort to improve the American family and its domestic environment. Architectural plan books and housekeeping advice books encouraged readers to build houses in an "American" style, and to equip their homes in a manner that fostered efficiency, comfort, and beauty. Reformers argued that this effort would contribute to national progress by improving the character and well-being of the family. To that end, Americans of different income levels and backgrounds began experimenting with a variety of "conveniences," such as furnaces, dumbwaiters, and speaking tubes. Plumbing proved to be among the most important of these mid-century household conveniences. Americans regarded the introduction of water fixtures and running water as one way to improve the quality of the American home. Surprisingly, the availability of water works and public sewage facilities had little influence on this drive. Instead, the appearance of mid-century plumbing in the American home seemed to stem primarily from the nationwide interest in reform, rather than from a sudden burst of interest in constructing a municipal infrastructure and public utilities;Numerous advice manuals served as self-help books in this effort and guided would-be reformers through the task of constructing self-contained household water supply and waste disposal systems. Inventors contributed to the effort by producing record numbers of showers, bathing tubs, sinks, and water closets. Plumbing supply houses met the needs of a diverse collection of reform-minded individuals by selling a range of fixtures of varying quality and price. This dissertation examines the motives that spurred Americans to adopt household plumbing, and details the array of water fixtures and supply and drainage technologies used to create mid-nineteenth century household plumbing systems.