The drinking water fountain has been around for centuries, but two different men invented the modern drinking fountain in the early 1900’s: Halsey Willard Taylor, and Luther Haws. Each man founded a company that produced drinking fountains. Taylor founded the Halsey Taylor Company, and Haws the Haws Sanitary Drinking Faucet Co. The way that water is served in public places was changed by Taylor and Haws.
Halsey Taylor developed his drinking fountain in part because his father had died from typhoid fever caused by water that was contaminated. Luther Haws worked both as a part-time plumber and as a sanitary inspector in Berkeley, Calif. One day at a public school he was inspecting he saw children drinking water from a tin cup tied to a faucet. Both men shared fears about the health risks associated with public drinking water. Water fountains developed by both men are still widely in use around the world.
In a couple of earlier blogs we mentioned two ongoing efforts to map U.S. water fountains, both smartphone apps: Thermos‘ Oasis Places, and WeTap, started by The Pacific Institute and Google. WeTap’s current map shows that this effort has spread across the U.S. from its origins in Berkeley, Calif. and the Bay Area. Dr. Peter Gleick, President of The Pacific Institute, maintains that the declining availability of drinking fountains has led to the rise of bottled water sales: “one of the reasons for the explosive growth in the sales of bottled water in the past two decades (the average American now drinks nearly 30 gallons of commercial bottled water per year, up from 1 gallon in 1980), is the disappearance of public drinking water fountains.”
Today, many feel that the drinking water fountain may be going the way of the telephone booth. Concerns about the sanitation and safety of drinking water fountains may be fueling their loss, in addition to boosting bottled water’s popularity. But bottled water has been shown to be dangerous to the environment and user, as well as being prohibitively expensive. An attractive alternative are hydration stations, machines that deliver filtered water, which are being installed in many schools and offices. In addition to the water offered by hydration stations often being purer and safer than drinking water fountains and bottled water, they help eliminate single use plastic bottles. Hydration stations are especially popular on college campuses, where activist students have been making others aware of the disadvantages of bottled water, and raising awareness about the safety of schools’ drinking water fountains. Maybe hydration stations will eventually supplant water fountains and even bottled water as the source of choice for drinking water.
Smartphones are a growing trend, and these days, there’s an app for just about anything you can think of – even clean water. Last year, we wrote about “FLOW” – an Android smartphone app that lets people snap photos of broken water pumps in developing countries, ensuring faster repair. We also mentioned, in an older post, an iPhone app called “Oasis Places,” created by Thermos, which allows users to track the locations of drinking fountains in the U.S., add new fountains, comments and pictures, and rate the water on criteria such as coldness, location, cleanliness and flavor. When it comes to helping other people kick their bottled water habit, “Oasis Places” sounds promising. However, when I checked the app store on my iPhone this morning, it was nowhere to be found. I even tried searching phrases like “water fountains” and “clean water,” with no luck.
Not to worry. The Pacific Institute is working with Google Application developers to launch a new app for Android-based smartphones called “WeTap.” Just like “Oasis Places,” WeTap allows users to map drinking water fountains with comments, pictures and water quality ratings. The disappearance of public drinking fountains has led to an increase in plastic bottled water sales, resulting in an overall negative environmental impact. Crowdsourcing apps like “WeTap” are meant to reverse this trend by encouraging users to carry a refillable, reusable water bottle while on-the-go. At first, only Android users will be able to use this app to map fountains, but they hope to make it available to any smartphone eventually. In the meantime, anyone with access to a computer or smartphone with a browser can still go online to see the water fountain maps. For more information, visit WeTap.org.
iPhone users no longer have an excuse to buy bottled water. A new iPhone application called “Oasis Places,” created by Thermos, allows users to track locations, ratings, and photos of water fountains across the U.S. The best part? It’s FREE (unlike expensive plastic bottled water.)
Proponents of plastic bottled water argue that it is the most convenient source of water while on the go; however, this application makes it easy for travelers to do away with plastic bottles, in favor of reusable stainless bottles that can be refilled at any of these various fountains. What’s more, registered users of the iPhone app can add new fountains, comments and pictures, and can rate the water on several criteria, including coldness, location, cleanliness and flavor.
Thermos is sponsoring random giveaways of hydration bottles to registered users in the months of August and September to celebrate the launch of “Oasis Places.” Using these bottles in lieu of plastic disposables will cut down on bottled water waste significantly. The app is now available for free download on iTunes.