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Philadelphia's Water Works p.36
  Philadelphia's Water Works p.36
 
Philadelphia is a city of many American firsts. It was home to the first free library, the first anti-slavery society, and the first public water works. These water works supplied water throughout Philadelphia through a system of pipes leading from the Schuylkill River.
City leaders decided that the city needed the water works in the 1790s, after a yellow fever epidemic. Yellow fever is spread by mosquitoes, but the Philadelphians did not know this and thought that the disease was being caused by the dirt and filth in their streets. A new water system would provide water to clean the streets, fresh drinking water, and a source of water for firemen to fight fires.
In 1799, the Philadelphia's Water Commission accepted a proposal to pump water through wooden pipes from the Schuylkill River using steam engines. The water works two steam-pumping stations opened at daybreak on January 21, 1801.
This first water works was located in Centre Square, currently the location of City Hall. But operations remained there for only fourteen years. The demand for water was too great for the little pumping station, and the boilers, made partly of wood, kept exploding. In 1815, a new engine house opened in Fairmount Park on the east bank of the Schuylkill, in what appeared from the outside to be a beautiful house.
By 1822, steam power had been abandoned for water power which was safer, less expensive, and more efficient. Water from the Schuylkill was collected in a series of buckets attached to eight huge waterwheels—each wheel was 16 feet in diameter by 15 feet wide. The turning wheels of what was by then known as the Fairmount Water Works operated pumps that sent the water through to the city's reservoir and throughout the city.
This efficient supply of water brought businesses to the Philadelphia area, and the water works itself was a popular tourist destination—second in the country only to Niagara Falls. In 1851, increased demand for water meant that the waterwheels began to be replaced by water-powered turbines. Unfortunately, the water in the Schuylkill was becoming contaminated because industries and people were dumping their waste directly into the river. The water works was eventually shut down in 1909 when new pumping stations with purifying systems were put in place.

            
 
Boats traveling up the Schuylkill River passed by the beautiful buildings of the Fairmount Water Works.
The American Philosophical Society

 
  Benjamin Latrobe
Benjamin Latrobe, often called the father of American architecture, designed the Philadelphia Water Works. Read about his life.
Fairmont Water Works
Visit the historical Fairmont Water Works in Philadelphia.
A Background to Philadelphia
A rich historical site on Philadelphia with a Philadelphia timeline, a list of Philadelphia firsts, and much more.


            
 
 


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