Thursday, October 18, 2012

Plumbing the Depths of Victorian Pipes

This charming plumbing advertisement is from 1906 (not quite Victorian, but close) and appeared in the Daily Californian to alert people to the benefits of having the Bakersfield Plumbing Co. ensure that the water pipes in your house were not only "clean and sweet," but working perfectly. The lady in the picture must be a contented customer - and she must surely be contented with such a magnificent bathroom. I like it very much, and am making a note of the design details for future renovation projects. I like the frieze near the ceiling, and the fancy light fixture and mirror in particular.

1857 advertisement (Wikimedia Commons)
Plumbers are important, no doubt about it, particularly when something goes wrong with the pipes - and as I was looking around in old newspapers, I found this item in an 1881 edition of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle*, as reprinted from the Detroit Free Press, entitled "That Frozen Pipe." Not something that the 1906 California lady was worried about, but back East, it was a different matter entirely. Plumbers building new houses in 1881, the piece begins, made "provision for freezing of water pipes under the house." But imagine that you are not in a newly built house, and when you go home to dinner the cook remarks "I guess the water has all run out of the river, for I can't get a drop to cook with." Of course, at this point, you ought to call in a plumber. But the hero of this article tries to fix matters himself - and it is a fearful business indeed:

All you need to do is get a candle, a hammer, a nail, a pine stick and a hot flat iron. After you have crawled under and bumped your head on the brick columns and raked your back on the joist, and barked your knees on the old iron hoops which always take up lodging under a house, you put the flat iron to the cold water pipe. It's no use to try to iron the wrinkles out of a water-pipe. 

The do-it-yourself hero of the piece then tries driving a nail into the pipe to see how frozen the pipes are, and of course soon gets drenched with the contents of a burst pipe. He then inches back out of the crawlspace for rags to make a tourniquet for the pipe, and "whoop[s] for the water to be shut off" and tries putting glue on the pipe. In short, he makes a mess of things. And in the end, he sends for a plumber - which is really what he ought to have done in the first place. A professional, in other words, equipped with - perhaps - something like Hanson's Hydraulic Ram (pictured in the 1857 ad above right) - much more effective than pine sticks, rags and glue.

*Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Jan. 23, 1881, p. 1.

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