Since the dawn of civilisation, humans have managed water to make access to it more convenient. The tap, and subsequently boiling water tap represent the pinnacle of this endeavour, signifying ease, comfort and cleanliness. This article will trace the evolution of this life-changing invention, from its ancient roots through to its modern incarnations.
Stripped back to its simplest description, a tap is a valve: a device that allows the flow of a substance – in this case, water – to be controlled as desired. Valves usually consist of a simple mechanism: either a screw that lifts a rubber washer to allow water to flow out or a ‘ball valve’, whereby water flow is controlled by rotating a ball, lining up its holes with the opening in the casing to allow water through. Such contraptions have existed for millennia, with the earliest evidence dating back to Roman times.
While humans have controlled water since they started to dig wells in the Stone Age, modern plumbing and taps really have their origins in Ancient Rome. With a settled population of half a million to a million people, the leaders of Ancient Rome sought to bring a water supply directly to their inhabitants. This consisted of a network of canals and aqueducts used to direct and store water. Lead pipes carried water into public baths and some private homes, ending in brass valves. Remarkably, Ancient Roman taps worked with a similar mechanism to the ball valves still used today.
In Western Europe, the collapse of the Roman Empire marked the beginning of the so-called ‘Dark Ages’. Much of the sophisticated infrastructure built over the previous centuries gave way to a much simpler, more primitive civilisation.
For the most part, this meant that Roman indoor plumbing, including taps, fell into disrepair. There were a couple of exceptions: taps were still a feature on Edward III’s bathtub in Westminster Palace, as well as in monasteries. But the vast majority of people used wells and streams as their water supply. For the meantime, taps were largely forgotten.
It wasn’t until the 18th century that the growth of major cities fuelled the establishment of an extensive plumbing network in the UK. For a while, indoor tap water was only available for the minority, but in the latter half of the 19th century, this began to change. In now-developed countries, taps began to become a feature of the everyday home.
Meanwhile, the quality of tap water was improving drastically. Indeed, 25 years after John Gibb used sand filters to purify water in 1804 in Scotland, Chelsea Waterworks Company provided London with the first ever treated water supply. This would soon be replicated across the UK. Regulations in 1855 demanded that water must be of a certain quality and 1897 saw England’s first use of chlorine to purify the public water supply.
Historically, hot and cold water were only available out of different taps. This changed when Thomas Campbell scalded his hands while washing them and, as a result, invented ‘mixer taps’. These combined hot and cold water before it was dispensed out of a single outlet.
A quirk in British history, however, meant that hot and cold water taps remained separate in the UK. This originated in a law which prevented hot and cold water being mixed for fear of heated water (undrinkable, due to it being stored in a tank) contaminating the main supply. Separate hot and cold taps are still widespread in the UK today – something which can cause confusion among foreign visitors!
The concept of the boiling water tap was born in 1970 thanks to instant soup. Dutch manufacturer Henri Peteri had a vision to replace kettles with an instant boiling water dispenser, making instant soup truly instant. After his son took up the task and with years of development, the first boiling water tap was launched in 1992.
Faster and more functional
Able to provide water at the simple twist of a handle, the tap has always been about convenience. This explains why, since their invention, boiling water taps have been embraced – particularly by commercial spaces. Through harnessing technological innovation, they took functionality and convenience to new heights, making taps faster, more efficient and healthier than ever before.
The instant nature of boiling water taps has been a big draw. By replacing kettles, businesses and people’s lives have become more efficient, creating time for other pursuits. Having to wait for water to boil has been relegated to history, meaning humans have been free to be more productive.
Instant water filtered taps have become increasingly quicker and more functional. Billi’s boiling water taps can dispense between 90 and 250 cups of boiling hot water per hour! Now, they don’t just supply boiling water, but a range of choices. Filtered boiling, chilled and sparkling water are all available immediately and with minimal effort. At Billi, we this took functionality to another level, becoming the first to create a system that could dispense chilled and boiling water from a single tap.
Much of the tap’s history has been a story of improving public health. We are now lucky enough to have drinkable, clean water delivered straight to our homes and workplaces. Another attraction of instant filtered taps such as Billi’s is that they enhance the health-giving qualities of fresh water even further. All of our taps have a sophisticated five-stage filtration system, removing impurities such as sediment, bacteria, chemicals and chlorine while preserving the vital essential minerals naturally present in tap water.
The future holds unprecedented challenges for human management of freshwater. It demands we find ways to preserve and protect water as well as the environment. At Billi, we are proud to be leaders in this field. Through harnessing our groundbreaking technology, we want to pay homage to the tap’s history by ensuring its bright and sustainable future.
The tap’s historical journey has been one of improving human life. Its development has been synonymous with the conveniences of civilisation and vast improvements in human health. This is the same thing that drives Billi in our quest to make taps better: we want to take taps to new heights of convenience, functionality and sustainability to make life easier, healthier and more productive.