Industry insights

The History of the Water Cooler

3 min read

By Will Vickery |  Published

Water coolers have now become a staple part of any office. They provide us all with refreshing chilled water throughout the day, and make sure we stay well hydrated and healthy whilst we are at work. But where did the water cooler begin?

History of the Water Cooler

2000BC – The Beginning: Sanskrit Writings

The pursuit of clean drinking water is something that has driven man kind to the evolutionary stage that we are currently at. The first written record of a water purification system is in the Sanskrit medical writings known as the Sus’ruta Samhita which includes such methods as boiling water over a fire, leaving it out in the sun, and filtering it through layers of gravel and sand. A process still used by some people today!

1500BC – The Egyptian Filtration Machine

On Amenophis II tombs walls there were the first pictures of a water filtration system in use. Again, using sand to filter the water, you can almost imagine these two Egyptians gathered round their ‘water cooler’ like we currently do today.

900BC – What did the Romans ever do for us?

The Romans, were the first to implement a city-wide clean water filtration system. The Romans built giant aqueducts, lined with marble or copper to transport water from clean sources such as mountain springs and into their cities. The ancient Greeks also employed a filtration system of gravel and sound, building an infrastructure that supplied great areas with clean water.

500 to 1500 – The Very Dirty Dark Ages

After the collapse of the Roman Empire, their water systems took a rapid step backwards and then took a long time to recover. In the middle ages most of the water came from rivers and lakes, which is also where most of the human waste was deposited. This led to a large constant outbreak of typhoid and cholera, causing an uncountable number of deaths.

1671 – Sand Filtration Returns

There was a shining light after so many years of unclean, dangerous drinking water and it came in the form of a man called Lucas Antonius Portius, an Italian physician who employed a system of three pairs of sand filters with an upward and downward flow filtration system to make water safe again.

1804 – Paisley Goes Clean

Led by Scottish entrepreneur John Gibb, in order to supply his bleachery with clean water, he then expanded the project to supply the whole town with clean water supply using the good old fashioned sand and gravel filtration system, making this small town in Scotland the first in the world to supply an entire populace with filtered water.

1840’s – The Idea of Chilled Water Catches on

Despite the fact that much of the UK was still without clean water, rich Victorians started the idea of drinking chilled water as a beverage and came up with the first water cooler in its most basic form. Using ice houses that stored ice and snow from the winter into the summer months, huge blocks of ice where used to chill the contents of the water cooler, although the units were very large, expensive and extremely heavy.

1852 – Clean Water for all

Shocked by the high death rates from cholera in London, parliament decided on the Metropolitan Water Act, the first of its kind – a directive to make sure the entire populace was supplied with clean drinking water.

1906 – 1938 – Early Inventor Luther Haws

The water cooler as we know was conceived by an American inventor Luther Haws. Haws was a sanitary inspector for the city of Berkeley, and when he saw school children drinking from a shared tin cup in 1905, he decided to create a water faucet that could filter the water and make it clean enough to drink. In 1906 he invented the first drinking water fountain, then went on to patent the first sanitary water faucet in 1911. In 1938 he introduced the first electrical self-contained water cooler – the kind very similar to what we use today – although these original water coolers also used heavy glass bottles, making them difficult to move and transport.

1980’s – The Modern Water Cooler is Born

With plastics becoming increasingly popular, plastic bottles replaced the original glass ones – making water coolers a lot more accessible due to the ease at which plastic bottles could be transported. They started to spread across the globe, going from strength to strength into the entity and market that it currently is now.