The faucet’s modern-day evolution can be traced back to a few entrepreneurs working in different parts of the country

It’s hard to imagine improving a device that has the one major purpose of turning on and off the flow of water. Yet, over the years, a number of innovations have been made to the lowly faucet.

Faucet improvements and innovations continue; or, at least, manufacturers hope to continue them. Someone, somewhere whether employed by a manufacturer or, like Al Moen, a free lance with an idea is thinking of the next big change. As David Lingefelter, Moen’s vice president of faucet and sink manufacturing says, “We constantly think of what we can offer. How can we offer more than just hot-cold, on-off?”

One of the most important innovations of the 20th century was Al Moen’s single-handle faucet, which he developed after burning himself when a two handle faucet let too much hot water flow on his hands.

Building on the perceived need to eliminate unpleasant surprises in temperature, several companies introduced shower mixers that automatically adjusted the hot-cold mix if someone flushed the toilet and you were in the shower. One of these, promoted in the January 1941 issue of Western Plumbingand Heating, was claimed by the manufacturer to “operate with split-second action when the cold water supply is suddenly shut off or dangerously reduced by other fixtures in the home or apartment house building.”

Other companies developed mixers that responded when either temperature or pressure showed variation. Among this group was the Powers Regulator Company, which said in an April 1948 advertisement, “For safer showers and bigger profits install Powers Thermostatic Mixers. They protect shower users from both temperature and pressure variations. Both dangerous variables are present in all shower installations.”

The Edisons turned their attention to preventing faucets from dripping and causing uncontrolled homicidal rages in the household.

The founder of Chicago Faucets, Albert C. Brown, invented a cartridge in 1913 that got that company off the ground. The cartridge-replaceable and completely self-contained-was called the Quaturn because only a quarter turn of the faucet handle was needed to go from full flow to no flow. According to company literature, “Also unique was the way the cartridge closed with the flow of the water rather than against it, reducing washer wear and virtually eliminating drips.”

One half measure was the Republic Integral Stop Valve, in which changing the faucet washer was made somewhat easier. This 1929 innovation enabled the homeowner or plumber to turn the water supply off at the faucet rather than somewhere further upstream when a washer needed replacing.

Another half measure was the use of Neoprene, rather than rubber, for washers after World War II. The Good Manufacturing Co. offered a redesign as well. Its Neoprene washers had concave sides for a better fit against the seat and longer life.

Some time after he invented the single-handle faucet, Al Moen tackled the drip problem by inventing a cartridge that ushered in the washerless faucet.

In 1972, Wolverine Brass created and patented the first ceramic disc cartridge, which was considered, at the time, the ultimate in drip control. Supposedly, the ceramic discs will never wear out and will never let even one unwanted drop leave the spout. Price Pfister was the first company to use ceramic cartridges in all of its products, rather than just the “high-end” ones.

Dripless faucets are one way to conserve water, something that became a concern in the latter part of the 1970s. Chicago Faucets took it a step further by introducing the Control-A-Flo cartridge, which let the homeowner adjust the maximum amount of water that came out of the spout.

By the 1950s, aerators became very popular. Not only did they prevent splashing when the water hit the bottom of the sink, they replenished lost oxygen, and trapped and carried off foreign tastes, odors and clouding gases. At least that’s what Spring-Flo Aerators claimed. Aerators, too, are supposed to conserve water.

Improving on the aerator, companies such as Omni Products designed laminar-flow faucets, which divide the water stream into dozens of very close parallel streams. According to Omni’s promotional literature, “When the tap is turned, a clear, wide, solid-looking stream of water leaves the faucet-it looks like a ton of water.”

Environmental-health concerns led to government-mandated changes in faucet design. Chief among these mandates is the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. To comply with this act, faucets must be “operable with one hand and shall not require tight grasping, pinching, or twisting of the wrist. The force required to activate operable parts shall be 5 lb. (22.2 N) maximum.”

Some companies go beyond the letter of the law and get into the spirit, such as one that makes knobs with enlarged “wings” for shower mixers to make them easier to adjust and plastic knobs on single-lever mixers for people allergic to metals.

Environmental-health concerns have also led to a huge increase in water-filtration systems being built into the faucet. For a number of years, now, bottled or filtered water has become practically a mainstay in many households because the tap water “tastes funny” or because the residents don’t trust the tap water.

Moen, for example, is one company that produces a filter built into the spout for easy replacement. The appeal to the consumer, says Lingefelter, is that “You don’t have to shut the water off. You don’t have to crawl under the sink.”

Then there’s the matter of style and utility. A prime example of a marriage of the two is the pull-out-sprayer faucet, which was developed by KWC in Switzerland in 1957. It took nearly 30 years for this innovative design to catch on in the United States. Since then, it has become the best-selling faucet in North America.

Its popularity is underscored by Lingefelter. He says he has one in his house and “when I take it out to prototype another faucet, I hear about it from my wife.”

Utility is the prime mover behind metered faucets–those annoying fixtures in public bathrooms that turn the flow off before your hands are completely wet–and behind electronic faucets that magically turn the flow on when you stick your hands under them.

What’s next? The answer is anyone’s guess. Maybe we’ve exhausted every improvement possible. But, then, the director of the patent office resigned during the Lincoln administration, saying everything possible to invent had been invented and he didn’t want to collect a salary under false pretenses.

No. Somewhere out there is another Al Moen with a bright idea for an earthshaking improvement to the point-of-use part of the water-delivery chain. Perhaps, “Beam me up some water, Scotty!”

RELATED ARTICLE: Sales Come Easier When You Can Offer Your Customers Features Like This

Republic Brass Co. Advertisement, April 1929

Many homebuilders and contractors take the stand that “plumbing fixtures are plumbing fixtures” — all pretty much alike.

Here’s an opportunity for you: Tie up to a line that gives you genuine, concrete selling features — features that mean greater convenience, better performance. Take the Republic Integral Stop Valve, for example. Your customers will be eager to know that the Republic Integral Stop Valve insures greater convenience by providing for stopping of water supply at the main valve body. They will be agreeably interested to know that it is not necessary to shut off the entire water supply to replace a washer or make a minor adjustment. They will be glad to know that it saves time and steps and that it is simple in construction, positive in operation, and easy to get at.

Anti-Scalding Mixing Value

New Product Item, January 1941

TRADE NAME: Josam Moderator Mixing Valve.

FEATURES: “Completely eliminates the element of chance” is the outstanding claim for this new valve because it operates with split-second action, when the cold water supply is suddenly shutoff or dangerously reduced by other fixtures in the home or apartment house building. The hydraulic type action is always positive, because a safety shuttle valve operated by the pressure of both the hot and cold water is the entire control. If the cold water fails, the pressure of the hot water instantly shuts off the hot water before it reaches the shower head.

This valve is simple, yet foolproof in design. The automatic shut-off operating unit has no springs to stick, no diaphragms to wear out, no hesitant controls, no complicated mechanism to get out of order. Years of service without maintenance expense are now possible. Made in bronze, chromium plated.

“It’s real RED BRASS – That’s what you want”

Kohler Advertisement, June 1929

When you have at the tip of your tongue all the talking points that honestly belong to a product you certainly do a better selling job. And when you do that, you make more money. The competitor whose only argument is price can’t meet your quality talk.

Take Kohler brass, for instance. Kohler brass is real red brass ,made up of a very high percentage of virgin copper. It is not loaded with zinc and other cheaper metals.

Kohler brass is remarkably free from pin holes. The castings are cleaner and passageways free from obstructions. It machines better, takes a cleaner thread, makes a tighter joint, and enables you to make a quicker, better-looking and better-lasting job.

Kohler brass is designed and built to give a full lifetime of satisfactory service. It matches the quality of Kohler enameled plumbing fixtures and Kohler vitreous china, so well and favorably known as products of unusual excellence.

This is just one instance of what Kohler quality can mean to a plumber. Tie up with a line that gives you highest quality plus exclusive convenience features–and you’ll make more money.

New Water and Anti-Syphon Ordinance in Force in Los Angeles

January 1939

The 120 days of grace allowed jobbers and manufacturers to get rid of outmoded plumbing fixtures and brass goods has expired…. The highlights of the code, which covers 15 pages in the code book, provide for a minimum of one inch air space between water supply outlet and spill level of fixture. This eliminates all old-style bath, basin and wash tray faucets.

A New Kitchen Sink with New Features

Kohler advertisement, May 1931

Coming right on the heels of Matched Fixtures, which brought complete decorative unity to the bathroom for the first time in plumbing history, the new “Crofton” sink confirms and strengthens Kohler leadership…the concealed rinsing hose, hidden beneath the ledge. After dishes, glasses and silverware have been sprayed, the hose disappears from sight, except for the chromium-plated fitting…an ingenious gooseneck spout which swings back over the ledge, clearing the valve handles and leaving the compartment beneath free and unobstructed. Mounted 14 inches above the sink, tall glasses, milk bottles and vases can be filled without tilting.

LOOK, MA! NO HANDS!

It’s a real pain, turning the faucet on when you have dirty hands and then having to go back and wash the handle once your hands are clean. It’s also a real pain for a school board to cough up money for fixing a building in which some smart aleck has turned on a lavatory faucet and stuffed paper towels in the drain so the sink overflows for the weekend. For the obsessive-compulsive among us, it’s terrifying to contemplate touching a faucet handle that just might be crawling with germs.

These are only three of the reasons faucet designers have turned some of their attention to faucets that would let water run only when it’s needed. And then with only minimal, if any, contact with the controls.

An early solution to the problem was the spring-loaded handle, which let water flow only so long as you twisted it. Of course, with this type of faucet handle, you could wash only one hand at a time, so its use is quite limited.

Another solution is the metering faucet. Once it’s activated, water flows for a predetermined length of time. The problem with metering faucets is that they aren’t all that reliable. They can break under heavy use or meter the wrong amount of water if pressure varies.

In the 1970s, the idea of a “proximity” faucet grew. This was a hands-free faucet that would let water flow without the need of a handle or button that

had to be twisted or pushed. The idea was to marry an electric power source with a timing device. These early models were complicated and electric power was too expensive, so they fell by the wayside.

O’Hare International Airport installed magic toilet flushers in the 1980s. These toilet flushers used a sensor that measured the light in each toilet stall. When a person’s body blocked the sensor, it got itself ready to flush the toilet when the person left the stall. By modifying this technology, faucet designers came up with the automatic electronic faucet.

Federal legislation and regulations have helped the electronic faucet find favor in public buildings. The 1992 Energy Conservation Act, which dictated new water-use levels for faucets, changed the performance criteria for metering faucets to one-quarter gallon per cycle. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which called for faucet handles that would operate with minimal force, paved the way for acceptance of electronic faucets, which operate with no force.

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Early electronic faucets were hard wired into the structure’s electrical supply, so there was contention between plumbers and electricians as to which would be responsible (read: make the money from) for installing the units. The introduction of battery packs solved this dilemma. It also made it easier to retrofit existing facilities.

One of the biggest problems in early electronic faucets was accidental activation caused by mirror reflections or light-level changes. Manufacturers have eradicated that problem with fixtures that automatically adjust to their environment.

Lavatory for Doctors, Dentists and Hospitals

New Product Item, January 1942

The new “Oxford” is Crane’s latest offering. It comes in a variety of sizes, 20″ x 14″, 19″ x 17″ and 26″ x 14″ and with knee-action stirrup, wall or floor type mixing valve control. The stirrup type is often preferred where the service requires a continuous flow for, as with a mixing valve in a shower, once the desired water temperature is attained, flow at that temperature will continue until the position of the stirrup is changed. The wall and floor type of mixing valve control is different. Continuous pressure on the lever must be exerted to maintain the flow, slight pressure allowing only cold water to enter the spout and extreme pressure only hot. Upon release the valve automatically snaps’ shut. Therefore, the wall and floor type are often preferable for momentary service such as that involved in washing and rinsing the hands. The wall type has the added advantage of making possible the easier sweeping and cleaning of the floor.

INNOVATIONS ON TOP OF INNOVATIONS

Mixing-metering electronic faucets and mixing-sensing electronic faucets are two innovations on top of the innovations.

The mixing-metering faucet is a metering faucet activated by a solenoid-valve touch button and lets water flow for a pre-determined length of time, unaffected by water- pressure variations.

The mixing-sensing faucet gives 30 seconds of water flow and also lets users pre-set the temperature of the water.

The electronic hands-free faucet is slowly entering the residential area. Delta introduced a new one designed specifically for residential use recently. According to Charlie McTargett, the company’s director of new product development, people with children are especially drawn to them. “Kids often don’t like to brush their teeth or wash their hands with traditional faucets,” he says. “But with electronic faucets, it becomes fun. We have also introduced different color options to go with kids’ decor.”

Electronic faucets are also useful for residences where there are elderly people or people who need assisted care.

Leaky Faucets Steal Precious Time!

Good Mfg. Co. Advertisement, January 1948

Each time you get a complaint that washers you installed are leaking, more of your time and money are wasted, as well as the possibility that you will lose a customer.

You won’t have that trouble with “Good” Neoprene Concave-Cushion Washers. They won’t leak, and shut tighter because their incurved shape provides four times more sealing surface than point-of-contact washers.

They last longer and cause less wear on the valve stem, because less force is required to close; and they withstand hot water 40 to 50% better than ordinary washers without softening or losing resilience.

“Good” Neoprene washers do more than make a profit for you. They hold old customers and win new ones.

Price-Pfister Non-Syphon Basin Faucets

Advertisement, January 1939

Don’t take chances! Buy and stack only faucets and ball cocks that meet anti-syphon requirements. Watch for the Price-Pfister Anty-Syphon Ball Cock tested and fully approved by the Los Angeles Department of Plumbing.

DR. KILDARE AT HOME

Hands-free faucet activation is becoming more popular in residential settings. Note the slow but sure adoption of the electronic faucet in home bathrooms. Another system is the pedal faucet, which has been around for years in doctors’ offices and operating rooms.

Now there are companies making them specifically for residential purposes. Pedal Valves, of Luling, La., is one such company. With the Pedal Valve “Pedalworks” system, a person sets the water temperature with the handles and then steps on the pedal to make the water flow. A lock-on button on the pedal lets you keep the water running without constant foot pressure.

Water-saving-conscious people will be impressed by the statistics the various companies throw around concerning pedal controls. According to Pedal Valve, at a nurse’s station, the device typically reduces water use by 80 percent. Another company says a residential pedal valve installed only in the kitchen can save a family of four up to 7,500 gallons of water per year.

As a teenager, Alex Manoogian emigrated to the United States from Turkey in 1920 to escape persecution of Armenians. Once in this country, he landed a job at a screw-machine company and his driving force was to make enough money to get the rest of his family, who had moved to Greece to escape the pogroms, over here.

He worked hard and did well, and with two other men formed the Masco Screw Products Co. in 1929. That company had great success, moving into plumbing fixtures in time, and Manoogian helped his family emigrate to the United States, as he had hoped.

Manoogian was always on the watch for new plumbing products Masco could produce, and he found a winner in Landis H. Perry’s single-handle ball-valve faucet. Perry had invented the valve in 1945 with a specific objective: “To provide a combined volume and blending control valve having relatively simple and yet effective means for sealing the valve element.” Beyond that, Perry also sought to create a design that could be repaired with “a minimum of difficulty.”

A patent was issued for Perry’s ball valve in 1952. Manoogian acquired the rights to the patent, made some improvements on the design, and made the rounds of major faucet manufacturers with the intention of selling it to them. He didn’t at that time want to produce the faucet himself.

The other manufacturers scoffed. Reminiscent of Western Union deriding Bell’s telephone as a toy, they said the public wouldn’t want it and, in private, called it such disparaging names as “The One-Armed Bandit.”

Manoogian knew his faucet was marketable, however, and he decided to make them and sell them through Masco, after all. Beginning in 1954, his sales force sold the first model to wholesalers and plumbers from the trunks of their cars. By 1958, just four years after the product was unveiled, Delta’s sales topped $1 million.

Install the Safest Mixer Made

Powers Regulator Co. Advertisement, February 1948

Outstanding for Quick-Acting Response to any change in temperate setting or changes in supply line temperatures or pressures.

Protects the bather against temperature changes caused by fluctuating pressures in supply lines due to use of nearby showers, faucets, flush valves, etc.

Rise or fall in hot water supply line temperature will not noticeably affect the shower temperature.

Restricting delivery to only one gallon per minute produces no noticeable change in temperature of shower.

Failure of cold water supply instantly shuts off the shower.

ONCE Twice Inventive

Al Bell spilled some acid and made the first 911 call, proving his newfangled invention–the telephone–actually did work. Some 50 years later, in 1937, Al Moen stuck his hands under a sink faucet and nearly burned them with the hot water.

“It got me to thinking,” he said later, “that you ought to be able to get what you want out of a faucet. The more I thought about it, the more I was convinced that a single-handle mixing faucet was the answer, so I began to make some drawings.”

Moen’s first design was for a double-valve faucet with a cam to control the two valves. He showed his plans to a major fixture manufacturer, who came up with several reasons the cam design was the wrong approach.

Moen then came up with a cylindrical design with a piston action. Between 1940 and 1945 he designed several faucets, borrowing money to build the models, and tried to interest plumbing-equipment manufacturers in the invention. Several manufacturers expressed an interest, but about that time World War II had started and there was no brass available for production, so the idea was put aside.

During the war, Moen worked as a tool designer for a shipyard defense plant in Seattle. From there, he went to Boeing Aircraft, where he worked for a short time before being drafted into the Navy.

After the war ended, Moen persuaded Ravenna Metal Products of Seattle to finance and produce the faucet design that had languished on the shelf during the war.

The first single-handle mixing faucet was sold in San Francisco in late 1947, retailing for about $12. “Our first large order, for 250 faucets, came from a wholesaler in the Bay area,” Moen recalled. “Our production at that time was about 5,000 faucets a year.

“Everyone who had the faucet loved it. One customer went back to the two-handle style for a short time, but she had gotten so used to the convenience of the single handle that she begged us to re-install her new single handle again.”

Moen continued to invent plumbing-related improvements such as the replaceable cartridge, which eliminated the need for washers in faucets; the screen aerator; the push-button shower-valve diverter; swivel spray; pressure-balancing shower valve; and the flow control aerator.

Doing Away with the Washer

January 1948

Revolutionary design of the new “Feather-Touch” line of plumbing fixtures just announced by H. B. Salter Mfg. Co., Marysville, Ohio, eliminates metal valve seats, washers and ordinary packing. The advanced design of the valve construction in comparison to conventional compression valves permits new standards of streamlined appearance, soft closing, long operating life and easy replacement. When you unscrew the streamlined cap…you remove the whole works.

Salter Feather-Touch valves utilize the sealing efficiency of “0” rings proven during the war on all types of high and low pressure hydraulic controls. Two “0” rings replace conventional metal seats, washers, and packing, and are of a synthetic rubber impervious to extremes of heat and cold as well as the deteriorating action of liquids. Soft opening and closing is achieved by a precision-machined, polished and chrome plated one-piece stem sliding through the “0” rings. The stem is always wiped clean as it closes to also provide unprecedented drip-proof service.

Laboratory tests have opened and closed faucets equal to 20 years service and they are still operating perfectly. Salter’s line of Feather-Touch fixtures, now available at most plumbing jobbers in a variety of kitchen and lavatory fixtures and faucets, will be expanded to include built-in fixtures within the very near future.