Most Americans take modern plumbing for granted. A precious few in the sewerage and sanitation industry know how much hard work it takes to keep those systems running.
Perhaps even fewer know the stories of those who made today’s sewer systems a reality. These 4 Americans who revolutionized modern sewers are just a sample of the pioneers who made our current standard of living possible.
4 Americans Who Revolutionized Modern Sewers
1) Ellis Sylvester (E.S.) Chesbrough
Known as the father of Chicago’s sewer system, Chesbrough became the Chicago Sewerage Commission’s engineer in 1855 following his work on Boston’s water distribution system.
In 1858, Chesbrough published what became recognized as the first significant work on sewerage, which contributed to the creation of a comprehensive sewerage system in Chicago - the first such system in a major American city. The new sewer system featured innovations like manhole covers, which made accessing and cleaning the sewers much easier.
2) George E. Waring, Jr.
Waring is considered a founding father of American public works. He rose to prominence as the drainage and agricultural engineer for the Central Park project in New York City in the 1850s, one of the largest drainage projects of the day. He resigned to accept a military commission during the Civil War, eventually earning the rank of colonel. After the war, he continued his career as an agricultural drainage engineer.
In 1880, Waring designed a large-scale conveyance system that separated sewage from stormwater runoff for Memphis, Tennessee. The new sewer system was developed following two outbreaks of yellow fever in the area.
Waring became the Street Cleaning Commissioner for New York City in 1894, during which time he reformed the department, cleared the streets of waste, established a corps of street cleaners, and instituted the recycling of reusable elements in the refuse stream.
From the 1880s until his death in 1898, Waring pioneered the reduction of pollution, designing and administering public works improvements that made America’s rapidly expanding urban centers cleaner and safer for citizens.
3) Strickland Kreass
In 1857, Strickland Kreass, chief engineer of Philadelphia’s Department of Sewerage, pushed for the creation of a “house lateral” sewer system, which would channel waste from each home to a larger sewer drain pipe. This system was one of the earliest of its kind in the U.S.
Kreass made the following statement in 1857:
There should be a culvert on every street, and every house should be obliged to deliver into it, by underground channels, all ordure or refuse that is susceptible of being diluted. The great advantage in the introduction of lateral culverts is not only that underground drainage from adjacent houses should be generally adopted, but that by the construction of frequent inlets, our gutters would cease to be reservoirs of filth and garbage, breeding disease and contagion in our very midst.
Kreass’s announcement contributed to the creation of the American house connection sewer.
4) D.E. McComb
McComb is recognized as the first American engineer to build large-diameter concrete sewers. He was the Superintendent of Sewers for Washington D.C. A 15x17½-foot concrete sewer with full brick lining was designed and built for the nation’s capital at McComb's direction from 1883 to 1885. The sewer was 2,500 feet long, with a maximum trench depth of 60 feet.
Poor concrete quality prevented its widespread use in sewage systems until the mid-1880s. Before then, many sewers were either built or lined with brick. McComb's guidance resolved that issue, leading to the expanded use of concrete sewers in the Washington, D.C., area and elsewhere in the United States. Concrete systems eventually became less expensive to build than brick sewers.
For more information on the history of American (and pre-American) sanitary sewer systems, visit SewerHistory.org. For the most advanced and modern sewer and sanitation products, check out Southland Tool’s product catalog.)