The origins of the water tap go way back to prehistoric man, who controlled the flow of water from rivers or streams by blocking it with tree trunks or rocks. The early Greeks and Egyptians devised valves to channel water to be used for drinking and crop irrigation. The Romans took this idea a step further and progressed it enough such that they could supply water to individual buildings. Their elementary plumbing even had stopcocks and check valves in order to prevent backflow.

A stopcock is a funnel shaped plug with a hole. By turning the plug the hole is either lined up with the pipe so water flows or set at right angles to block the flow.

William Golding hit the nail on the head with his Lord of the Flies quote: “The greatest ideas are the simplest.”

Mona lisaDa Vinci’s contribution

For the majority of us, the name Leonardo Da Vinci conjures up visions of a rather serious looking woman with stalkerish eyes and a naked man in the throes of a perfect star jump. He is also credited with the invention of the tap or faucet. In the early 1500s, Da Vinci (who was centuries ahead of his time in creative thinking) utilised his advanced understanding of water motion to design valves that he used in irrigation and canal projects. As with many of his other innovative ideas and inventions, he left sketches illustrating his visions.

The globe valve, used in taps of today, didn’t appear until 1870, when an American named JH Davis patented his ideas. Although some may consider the mixer tap to be a relatively new design, it was actually first patented in 1880 by inventor Thomas Brunswick.

As much as we acknowledge the huge impact readily available drinking water has had on our lives, consider for a moment how different life would be without a tap to deliver our fresh, clean water.

Here are some interesting facts about taps or faucets:

  • Most taps are made from stainless steel, brass, copper, zinc alloys and pewter
  • Some taps are made from glass, ceramics, or even wood
  • Many taps in India are made from plastic
  • Taps in the UK are coloured red for hot and blue for cold
  • Some taps are labelled H for hot and C for cold, which causes problems in France, Italy and Spain (where C is for ‘chaud,’ ‘caldo’ and ‘caliente,’ all meaning hot)
  • The hot tap is on the left due to building standard requirements
  • Fungi likes to grow on the end of the cold water tap (yuk)
  • Dripping taps wasted 550 million gallons of water in Britain last year (enough
  • to fill 1,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools).

Just like most things in life, the tap has evolved hugely, and in our next post we will take a look at the most popular taps and the very latest designs.


(Photos by oh Paris and steved)