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The Drinking Fountain

One of the 100 Greatest Inventions

drinking fountain


In mid-19th century London, water provision from private water companies was generally inadequate for the rapidly growing population and was often contaminated. Legislation in the mid nineteenth century formed the Metropolitan Commission of Sewers, made water filtration compulsory, and moved water intakes on the Thames above the sewage outlets. In this context, the public drinking fountain movement began. It built the first public baths and public drinking fountains.[1]

In London, the Metropolitan Free Drinking Fountain Association was established in 1859. The first fountain was built on Holborn Hill on the railings of the church of St Sepulchre-without-Newgate on Snow Hill, paid for by Samuel Gurney, and opened on 21 April 1859.[2] The fountain became immediately popular, used by 7,000 people a day. In the next six years 85 fountains were built, with much of the funding coming directly from the association. The movement soon became associated with the temperance movement as they provided a substitute for alcohol and were purposely positioned outside public houses.[1]

In the United States, drinking fountains were built beginning in 1889 by the then-small Kohler Water Works (now Kohler Company) in Kohler, Wisconsin, a company already established as a faucet producer.[citation needed] The original 'Bubbler' shot water one inch straight into the air, creating a bubbling texture, and the excess water ran back down over the sides of the nozzle. Several years later the Bubbler adopted the more sanitary arc projection, which also allowed the user to drink more easily from it. At the start of the 20th century, it was discovered that the original vertical design was related to the spread of many contagious diseases.[3]


In recent studies, it has been found that some drinking fountains have been contaminated with pathogens such as bacteria. In one study, a virus commonly known to cause diarrhea in young children known as the rotavirus has been found on drinking fountains in child day care facilities.[4] Due to cases in the past where children have fallen ill due to coliform bacteria poisoning, many governments have placed strict regulations on drinking fountain designs. The vertical spout design[clarification needed] is now illegal in most US jurisdictions.[citation needed] Some governments even require water spouts to be as long as four inches to meet health standards.[3] It is also recommended for young children to allow drinking fountains to run before drinking, as the water may also be contaminated with lead. This is especially common in older buildings with obsolete plumbing.[5]


1. Philip Davies. Troughs and Drinking Fountains.
2. "Victorian fountains". The website of Bob Speel.
3. Ask Well: What Diseases Can You Get from a Water Fountain?
4. Bernard, Bruce (15 March 2013). "Where Have All the (Public Water) Fountains Gone?". Water quality and health.
5. "Fact Sheet: Drinking Water in Schools". The Green Squad



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