The History of the Water Cooler

January 12, 2023

We see water coolers now as part of any office staple. They provide us all with refreshing water throughout the day and make sure we are all hydrated while we work. So where did the water cooler begin? Read on below to take a wander through 3000 years of history and discover how the water cooler began.

2000BC – The Beginning: Sanskrit Writings

The pursuit of clean drinking water is something that has driven mankind since we stumbled out of our caves with burning sticks in our hands. The first written record of a water purification system is in the Sanskrit medical writings known as the Sus’ruta Samhita which includes such methods as boiling water over a fire, leaving it out in the sun, and filtering it through layers of gravel and sand. A process still used today!

1500BC – The Egyptian Filtration Machine

On the walls of the tomb of Egyptian ruler Amenophis II are the first pictures of a water filtration system in use. Again, using sand to filter the water, you can almost imagine these two Egyptians gathered round their ‘water cooler’ like we do today!

900BC – What did the Romans ever do for us?

This next example is the first implementation of a city-wide clean water system. The Romans built giant aqueducts, lined with marble or copper, to transport water many miles from clean sources such as mountain springs and into their cities. The ancient Greeks also employed a filtration system of gravel and sand, building an infrastructure that supplied great areas with clean water.

500 to 1500 – The Very Dirty Dark Ages

After the collapse of the Roman Empire water systems took a rapid step backwards and then took a long time to recover. In the middle ages most water came from rivers and lakes, which is also where most of the human waste was deposited. This led to constant outbreaks of Typhoid and Cholera, causing uncountable deaths.

1671 – Sand Filtration Returns!

A shining light after so many years came from an Italian physician called Lucas Antonius Portius, who employed a system of three pairs of sand filters with an upward and downward flow filtration system to make water safe again.

1804 – Paisley Goes Clean

Led by Scottish entrepreneur John Gibb, in order to supply his bleachery with clean water, he then expanded the project to supply the whole town with a clean water supply using the good old-fashioned sand and gravel filtration system, making this small town in Scotland the first in the world to supply an entire populace with filtered water.

1840’s – The Idea of Chilled Water Catches on

Despite the fact that much of the UK was still without clean water, rich Victorians started the idea of drinking chilled water as a beverage and came up with the first water cooler in its most basic form. Using ice houses that stored ice and snow from the winter into the summer months, huge blocks of ice where used to chill the contents of the water cooler, although the units where large, expensive and extremely heavy.

1852 – Clean Water for all

Shocked by high death rates from cholera in London, parliament decided on the Metropolitan Water Act, the first of its kind – a directive to make sure the entire populace was supplied with clean drinking water.

1906 to 1938 – Enter Inventor Luther Haws

The water cooler as we know it was conceived by American inventor Luther Haws. Haws was a sanitary inspector for the city of Berkeley, and when he saw schoolchildren drinking from a shared tin cup in 1905 decided to create a water faucet that could filter the water and make it clean enough to drink. In 1906 he invented the first water drinking fountain, then went on to patent the first sanitary water faucet in 1911. In 1938 he introduced the first electrical self-contained water cooler – the kind very similar to what we use today – although these original water coolers also used heavy glass bottles, making them difficult to move and transport.

1980’s – The Modern Water Cooler is Born

With plastics becoming increasingly popular, plastic bottles replaced the original glass ones – making water coolers a lot more accessible due to the ease at which plastic bottles could be transported. They started to spread across the globe, going from strength to strength until the establishment of Water for Work ltd (the precursor that was to become Edgars Water) in 1992, meaning we have been providing cooler solutions to offices for over 35 years – and hope to help you with all your water cooler needs for many years more.

The water cooler has come a really long way since its humble beginnings!  If you are interested in our (very modern) water coolers, why not check them out using this link.



This article was originally featured on Edgar’s Water blog.