Water Pumps

July, 2001 – Journal entry by Muffie Meyer, Co-Producer/Director

Water PumpWe are about to leave for a shoot in Lithuania, with several hundred shots planned for the two-week filming period.

One of the shots that we planned is of people congregating around a town pump in the Boston of Franklin’s childhood. Suddenly, it occurred to us: were there town pumps in 18th century American cities? We made two calls: one to a key scholar/advisor, Keith Arbour, the other to Beth Gilgun, an extremely knowledgeable source for costumed re-creators and all sorts of diverse information.

Keith went to John Bonner’s “The Town of Boston in New England” and reported that there was a map from 1722 with two or more public pumps on it. Great – there were town pumps! Beth Gilgun’s email was also fascinating – about plumbing in the 18th century:

After about 1700, Boston had sewers to take the discharge from indoor pumps. “Probably no city anywhere had better subsurface drainage” than Boston.

“Twelve scavengers made money for the town by selling loads of the dirt and filth.”

Because lumber had to come from Maine, brick was Boston’s cheapest construction material in the 1760s. New houses usually had gardens in the rear, a private pump, and (after fire-prevention rules were relaxed in 1765) wooden outhouses.

To keep pumps from freezing in the winter, newspapers suggested pumping a tub full of water before going to bed, bringing warmer water up into the device. Some pumps were in cellars, others outside.

Boston from Carl Bridenbaugh, “Cities in Revolt: Urban Life in America,” 1743-1776. New York: Knopf, 1955.

Based on a drawing of an 18th century Boston pump from the Harvard Newspaper, The College Pump, supplied to us by Keith Arbour and other drawings researched by Andrew Jackness, our amazing Production Designer, Andy designed this wooden pump (which was then built by the Art Department crew in Lithuania).