10 Great Innovations in Water Technology: Part 1

water innovationsIt is always fun to look back at the landmark, or should we say watershed, moments in the history of water technology and management. It is amazing to see how even ancient civilizations were very advanced in water innovations, and how we are still making huge advancements today. But this is not surprising for, as WH Auden wrote, “Thousands have lived without love, not one without water.”

Two of our top ten brilliant inventions have already been discussed in depth in past blogs:

  1. In the 4th century BC the Romans started building aqueduct systems that provided water to mills, farms, public baths, fountains and private households throughout their empire.
  2. The second innovation that we have described in detail was invented 2,300 years later: creating water from air using modern fog collectors.

In this two-part blog, we will describe the other eight innovations in water technology that have shaped the world.

#3: Water Wheels

At the same time that the Romans were building aqueducts to carry fresh water from remote sources to cities, the Greeks were developing the water wheel. The water wheel at Perachora is the oldest known water wheel in the world. Using a horizontal wheel and two millstones, the wheel could grind flour, rice, corn and other grains. The same design would later be used to mill paper, textile, lumber and even metal. [1]

#4: Mayan Reservoirs

In the ancient Mayan city of Tikal in modern day Guatemala, there was a problem: zero rainfall four months out of every year. The Mayans devised a water management system that provided for the needs of 80,000 residents and held up for over one thousand years.

Recent archaeological digs have shown how the Mayans dug out reservoirs and covered all the surfaces in plaster in order to conserve the water. They even had a primitive filter system that ran the water through a box of sand that would catch debris. [2]

#5: Flush Toilets

No one is sure who actually invented the flush toilet, but we are all very appreciative. There are remains of a possible flushing system devised by the Scots some 5,000 years ago. The Greeks had a flushing system based on earthenware pots in the ancient Palace of Knossos 3,700 years ago.

The first person credited with creating the modern flush toilet is Sir John Harrington who, in 1592, designed a water closet with a downpipe to wash out the debris. Unfortunately his design was ignored for almost 300 years.

In 1861 Prince Edward instructed Thomas Crapper to provide several of the royal palaces with lavatories. Crapper and his team did a superb job and wisely decided to go into the toilet business. [3]

#6: The Water Hose

One common water invention seems so simple, but where would our lives be without it: the hose. Whether used in watering the garden, for putting out a fire, cooling our car’s radiator or providing water for our dishwasher or washing machine, we owe a lot to this invention, which seems simple but is actually quite sophisticated.

Once again, ancient Greece was the first to introduce this important water innovation. Over 2,100 years ago the Greeks extinguished fires by removing the intestines and stomach of an ox and filling them with water that was pumped onto the blazing flames.

The first manufactured flexible hose didn’t come about until the 17th century, when Dutch inventor Jan van der Heyden stitched together pieces of leather to form a hose. Over the past four hundred years we have progressed from leather to canvas, cloth, cotton and linen. Unfortunately, all these materials proved to be too heavy and had serious problems with leaking. In 1870 rubber hoses were first introduced and today almost all hoses are either rubber or PVC, which are highly flexible, lightweight, and durable materials. [4]

Stay tuned for the next blog, in which we will describe the other four of the greatest innovations in water technology. Any guesses as to what they might be?


[1] Brendan Harkness, 4 Historic Innovations in Water Technology, December, 2017
[2] Stephanie Pappas, Sustainable Tech Saw Ancient Maya Through Drought, July 16, 2012
[3] BAUS, A Brief History of the Flush Toilet, 2018
[4] Dave, History of the Hose, March 25, 2015


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