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.