The Metropolitan Drinking Fountain Association opened its first drinking fountain in April 1859 — and thousands gathered to watch it be turned on.
At the time, many poor people got their water from private companies that hauled it directly from the Thames, which was increasingly polluted by human waste.
By the mid-19th century, the water was so polluted that beer was being used as a safer alternative!
Victorian Filling Stations
At its peak, the first water fountain was being used by around 7000 people a day.
By 1879, there were almost 800 drinking fountains in London alone.
Not just people were refreshing themselves, though. By 1865 the majority of fountains then being erected had drinking troughs for dogs attached to them.
Before this, water was available only at the troughs erected outside pubs.
It was fully understood by carmen and others watering their horses at them that they were expected at the same time to patronize the house.
To remove any chance of misunderstanding on this point, sometimes troughs contained lines like:
“All that water their horses here Must pay a penny or have some beer.”
In 1867, the name of the group was changed to the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association to acknowledge the four-legged part of their mission.
By 1885 over 50,000 horses were enjoying the Association’s troughs in London.
These water troughs became so important that their locations began to be built into maps, and the Victorians often referred to them as filling stations.
The same cup
For 50 years, people drank water from these fountains using … a metal cup attached to the fountain with a chain.the central mechanism was remarkably consistent. It featured three main components: A spigot that sent out a continual stream of fresh water, a basin for collecting the water, and a metal cup, attached by
The water fountain generally featured three main components: A spigot that sent out a continual stream of fresh water, a basin for collecting the water, and a metal cup, attached by chain to the edifice, that was kept in the basin of water. Thirsty passers-by would grab the metal cup and drink it dry, then put it back into the basin of water.
Yup. Everyone used the same cup. Day in and day out. Although germ theory had, by the 1860s, started to gain acceptance, everyone assumed that the water flowing over the cup would keep it clean.
And no one believed that germs could live on a metal cup.
It’s a Bubbler
The term bubbler is still used instead of water fountain or drinking fountain in parts of the United States United States and in Australia.
It’s commonly used in southern and eastern Wisconsin and in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
In Portland, Oregon where in the late 1800s Simon Benson installed 20 fountains, they are now known as “Benson Bubbler“.
Though it may not be understood in other areas, it has become such a novelty in WI that the state Historical Society (WHS) has created T-shirts to sell that on the front state “It’s a bubbler” and on the back say “Fountains are where you throw coins.”