Wednesday, February 20, 2013

An Amazing 1920s Invention: The Roto-Rooter

We've all had clogged up drains and we all know what a problem they can be. I remember having a plugged-up bath drain when we lived in Boston on the 2nd floor of a 1920s era house. It was a lovely, charming apartment with lovely, charming 1920s plumbing - which was all very well until the tub drain got blocked up. Unlike the folks in the 1916 picture on your left (from Popular Science Monthly via Wikimedia) our tub was not located in a travelling trunk, so when it stopped draining properly we couldn't just turn it into a suitcase.

Anyway, I remember us trying to use a snake to unblock it, and not getting all that far (literally and figuratively). I think in the end we did the smart thing and called a professional plumber in to help us. Probably someone from Rotorooter- and were we ever glad to see them!

It was also in the 1920s that a clogged drain in his son's apartment gave a man named Samuel Oscar Blanc a brilliant idea. Samuel and his son Milton invented a machine with rotating blades that cleaned out clogged sewer drains. Sewers often get filled up with stubborn things like tree roots and the Blancs' machine was a super-powerful variation of the plumber's snake we were poking into our 1920s tub drain.

You can see the machine that Mrs. Blanc named the Roto-Rooter, in this wonderful photo (above right) from Wikimedia Commons - along with the elder Mr. Blanc. It features a washing machine motor, steel cables and roller skate wheels - isn't that ingenious? It is just the sort of thing we needed for our vintage Boston tub, no doubt about it.

Anyway, the Blancs sold their Roto-Rooters to individuals all through the 1930s, and gradually a lot of those folks started their own plumbing businesses. The earliest ads I found for the official Rotorooter company are from the late 1940s and I certainly remember them when I was a kid in the 1960s and 1970s. I'll bet a lot of you, like me, remember the little Roto-Rooter jingle about troubles going down the drain - I always enjoyed it when it came on the radio or TV.

The company is still going strong, and ready to deal with all sorts of plumbing issues - whether you have a brand new house or, like us back in our Boston days, live in a vintage place with vintage plumbing.

Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post; however, all the points and views are my own.

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