Beehive Archive: Indoor plumbing eases the domestic burden | News, Sports, Jobs

Indoor installations have not always been the norm here in Utah.

Welcome to the Beehive Archive – your weekly bite-sized look at some of the most important — and quirky — events in Utah history. With all the history and no dust, the Beehive Archive is a fun way to catch up on Utah’s past. Beehive Archive is a Utah Humanities production made available to local newspapers as a weekly feature focused on Utah history from our award-winning radio series, heard weekly on KCPW and Utah Public Radio.

Indoor Plumbing Eases Domestic Stress Most of us take for granted the luxury of having running water in our homes. But indoor plumbing is a relatively new phenomenon that has made life considerably easier! At the turn of the 20th century, only 1% of homes in the United States had electricity and indoor plumbing. That number rose in the 1930s as federal funding and improved technology made running water much more accessible to homeowners. Advancements such as flushing toilets, hot water, and steam heating became standard in urban homes and apartment buildings, and eased the burden of household chores for many Utah women.

But even as costs fell, these modern luxuries were unequally distributed. They benefited mostly middle-class city dwellers, leaving many rural Utahns without access to running water well into the 21st century. In the early 1900s, cities invested thousands of dollars installing new housing developments and connecting homes to sewers.

These changes were particularly important in densely populated urban areas, as easy access to clean water helped ward off disease in crowded neighborhoods. Buildings like the Hillcrest Apartments in Salt Lake City boasted modern conveniences aimed at cleanliness and comfort. Steam-heated closets that dried clothes, flushed toilets, and provided hot water when needed made household chores easier for women, who no longer had to haul their own water from a well every morning.

For those wealthy enough to live in newer buildings, running water quickly went from a luxury to a necessity. But such updates have been slow to arrive in many areas of rural Utah. In the case of new buildings, residential and commercial buildings were often equipped with the appropriate pipes and connections to the public water supply. But for existing buildings, such upgrades could be costly if they could be connected to a water source at all.

Cities enacted ordinances requiring homeowners to pay for permits and inspections before installing plumbing in their homes. This financial burden discouraged many interested residents from modernizing their homes.

For some Utahns, running water is still a luxury in its own right. Despite the great improvements that indoor plumbing brought to home life, the advances did not reach every community in Utah. For example, members of the Navajo Nation living in southeastern Utah continue to face poor water infrastructure and limited access to running water well into the 21st century.

Beehive Archive is a Utah Humanities production. This Beehive Archive story is part of Think Water Utah, a nationwide collaboration and conversation on the critical issue of water presented by Utah Humanities and its partners. For sources consulted in the creation of the Beehive Archive and previous episodes, see © Utah Humanities 2022


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