Technology, World-Changing Inventions

Water Treatment Technology Through History

Water Treatment Technology Through History


Civilization has changed in uncountable ways over the course of human history, but one factor remains the same: the need for clean drinking water. Every significant ancient civilization was established near a water source, but the quality of the water from these sources was often suspect. Evidence shows that humankind has been working to clean up their water and water supplies since as early as 4000 BCE.

Cloudiness and particulate contamination were among the factors that drove humanity’s first water treatment efforts; unpleasant taste and foul odors were likely driving forces, as well. Written records show ancient peoples treating their water by filtering it through charcoal, boiling it, straining it, and through other basic means. Egyptians as far back as 1500 BCE used alum to remove suspended particles from drinking water.

By the 1700s CE, filtration of drinking water was a common practice, though the efficacy of this filtration is unknown. More effective slow sand filtration came into regular use throughout Europe during the early 1800s.

As the 19th century progressed, scientists found a link between drinking water contamination and outbreaks of disease. Drs. John Snow and Louis Pasteur made significant scientific finds in regards to the negative effects microbes in drinking water had on public health. Particulates in water were now seen to be not just aesthetic problems, but health risks as well.

Slow sand filtration continued to be the dominant form of water treatment into the early 1900s. in 1908, chlorine was first used as a disinfectant for drinking water in Jersey City, New Jersey. Elsewhere, other disinfectants like ozone were introduced.

The U.S. Public Health Service set federal regulations for drinking water quality starting in 1914, with expanded and revised standards being initiated in 1925, 1946, and 1962. The Safe Drinking Water Act was passed in 1974, and was quickly adopted by all fifty states.

Water treatment technology continues to evolve and improve, even as new contaminants and health hazards in our water present themselves in increasing numbers. Modern water treatment is a multi-step process that involves a combination of multiple technologies. These include, but are not limited to, filtration systems, coagulant (which form larger, easier-to-remove particles call “floc” from smaller particulates) and disinfectant chemicals, and industrial water softeners.

For further information, please read:

Planned future articles on Sandy Historical will expand on some of the concepts mentioned here. Please visit this page again soon for links to further reading.

Science & Society

Luddites: The Yin to SMHTS’s Yang

Whereas the Sandy Mountain Historical & Technological Society (SMHTS) seeks to keep the history of America’s, and the world’s, industrial manufacturing technology alive, the Luddites sought the polar opposite. A group of early 19th century protesters made up of textile artisans and other displaced laborers, the Luddites damaged and destroyed countless newly-created labor saving machines during the later days of the Industrial Revolution.

Rapid industrialization throughout England at that time had left many textile craftsmen without work. New equipment like spinning frames and power looms was replacing skilled laborers, providing a faster and cheaper method of production. The Luddites, supposedly following the example of folk hero Ned Ludd, attacked the equipment and factories that had cost them their livelihood, destroying them with brute force for a six-year period between 1811 and 1817.

Though the targets were the labor-saving machines, the Luddite cause was not based on an aversion to the technology itself. Rather, it emerged from the harsh economic climate in England during and after the Napoleonic Wars. Companies with new, industrialized equipment could easily replace their (relatively) expensive skilled laborers with cheaper, unskilled laborers, leaving those who had worked for years on their chosen craft without employment or recompense.

Far from random, haphazard attacks, Luddite activities were often practiced maneuvers designed to wreak maximum destruction. The Luddites burned mills, smashed machinery with sledgehammers, and regularly clashed with the British Army. Local magistrates were rumored to have infiltrated the Luddite ranks via agents provocateur, while, on the flip side, Luddites sent anonymous death threats to—and often physically attacked—those same magistrates.

The last major Luddite act was the Pentrich Rising, an armed uprising of approximately 250 displaced workers led by Jeremiah Brandeth in June 1817.

Agricultural laborers, losing their jobs to threshing machines and similar technological advancements of the time, joined the ranks of the Luddites much later, around 1830. This second wave of Luddite activity followed a similar style as the original, textile-working Luddites’ attacks, though, obviously, focusing on different mechanical targets.

For further information, please read:

Planned future articles on Sandy Historical will expand on some of the concepts mentioned here. Please visit this page again soon for links to further reading.