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The term "plumber" comes from the Latin word for lead; "plumbum" and the term "plumbarius" meaning lead worker. The earliest forms of plumbing involved use of wood or earthenware but were later constructed out of lead. Plumbers were skilled lead workers who fitted and repaired the apparatus of water distribution in and out of a building. In the past, plumbers dealt with everything involving supply and waste. They soldered, installed and repaired piping, worked on roofs and gutters, as well as sewers and drains.

Water was first transported by hand and was acquired from wells, cisterns, springs and rivers until a man named Appius Claudius created a better system of water supply called the aqueduct. The first aqueduct was built in 312 B.C. and was named in honour of its creator. It was an impressive 11 miles long.

The Romans took water supply a step further and were some of the first people to develop hot water and steam systems which they put to use in the creation of the grand public baths. These baths were extremely popular and were the city centers for gossip and group enjoyment. They were very luxurious and each city would strive to have the most extravagant. The baths of Diocletian were some of the most exquisite; seating over 3000 people with mosaic covered walls and streams of warm water continuously pouring out of beautiful silver.

By the 4th century A.D., Rome had 1,352 public fountains and cisterns, 11 public and 856 private baths. At this point in time, even the most educated Romans did not yet understand anything about bacteria and the true causes of disease, so other than a once a day emptying and refilling of the public baths, there was no sanitation system in place. Even with a daily cleaning, the water still would have been filled with germs from the hundreds of people sitting in the same tainted, unfiltered water.

The Greeks disagreed with the idea of extravagant public baths and although they understood heated water systems, preferred to use cold water since it was thought unmanly to use hot water. A bath was much more solitary and practical for a Spartan. A man would stand in a polished marble bowl about 30" in height and have a servant pour cold water over his head and body for a quick, efficient rinse. In their opinion, the colder the water, the better.

Eventually the popularity of bathing disappeared with the fall of the Roman Empire. To replace bathing, powders, oils and perfumes were used. The focus was more on covering up unpleasant body odours than keeping clean. The Black Plague began seeping throughout the world and the lack of cleanliness added fire to the epidemic.

In the 1700"s, baths began to regain their former status and were acknowledged for their healing powers. The connection between keeping clean and staying healthy was slowly being realized.

The very first sewers were built by the Romans between 800 B.C. and 735 B.C. (about 500 years before the first aqueduct). The Cloaca Maxima is one of the largest ancient sewers still in use. Every street emptied into a channel of the sewer but only certain noblemen had outlets right to their houses. At that time, the latrines were situated adjacent to the kitchens with the ends of the sewer for the only source of ventilation. After years of illogical systems of waste removal, scientists began to understand the link between the illnesses of cooks and maids and the importance of a new, practical system. Without thinking the situation through, people had been building pipes in nonsensical ways such as uphill or at right angles leaving the sewage nowhere else to travel. In some areas the only way to dispose of waste was by tossing it out the window. Residents had to yell Garden lèau (meaning watch out for the water) to warn those below of what was coming.

Eventually, designs for a better waste system were created, leading to the world"s first indoor flushing toilet, or "water closet". It was produced in 1700 B.C. in the Minoan Palace of Knossos on the isle of Crete, consisting of a wooden seat and a small basin of water. Sir John Harington was the next to design a new, improved washout closet in the 16th Century. Nearly 200 years later, in 1775 Alexander Cumming patented the forerunner of today"s toilet with his invention of the S trap.

The national Public Health Act was passed in England in 1848 and became a model plumbing code for the future. Finally there was a mandate for sanitary arrangement in every home such as an ash pit, privy or flushing toilet. The government built a new, sensible sewer system including proper outlets for toilets. From then on, many engineers and pottery makers continued to develop newer and better toilet designs.

Clean water and safe waste removal is an imperative part of our everyday life. It has been said, albeit at plumbing conventions, that plumbers through the installation of sanitary water and sewer systems, have actually saved more lives than doctors!