Hippocrates may be the first inventor of the first (very basic) ancient water filter. Then in the 1600s, Sir Robert Bacon experimented with sand filtration. But it was John Doulton who invented the first modern ceramic water filter in 1827.
The purpose of this article is to explore the history of water filtration and how and why inventors have worked for centuries to perfect filtration methods, what they learned along the way, and what that means for us today as we continue our search for ways to produce clean drinking water more affordably than ever before.
Who invented the water filter? A short history
The modern water filter, like the ones we use today, was invented by John Doulton (the father of English fine china and pottery manufacturer Henry Doulton). The first Doulton ceramic water filter was commissioned by Queen Victoria for the royal household in 1835.
However, Doulton’s invention owed a lot to many water treatment pioneers who came before him. Let’s take a look at some of the people who contributed to the invention of the water filter one by one.
Hippocrates’ ‘Hippocratic Sleeve’ (1st Century BC)
In the 1st century BC, Hippocrates invented a primitive water filter. This crude water filter was made from a cloth bag and was known as the ‘Hippocratic sleeve’. It was used to filter out solids and other impurities from drinking water.
Sir Robert Bacon’s Slow Sand Filtration (early 1600s)
In the early 1600s, Sir Robert Bacon experimented with slow sand filtration as a way of removing impurities from water . He developed a process that involved pouring water into a barrel with a layer of sand or gravel at the bottom. The water would then be drained through a pipe in the center, leaving much of the debris behind as it went.
Bacon’s invention didn’t work. It did, however, encourage more scientists to continue working on improving his filtration method.
Lucas Antonius Portius’ Multiple Sand Filters (1685)
During the 1680s, an Italian physicist named Lucas Antonius Portius developed a multiple sand filtration method that was much closer to what we use today . This method used three sand filters, each with an upward and downward flow filter. The water was passed through the filters multiple times in order to remove as many impurities as possible.
John Gibb (1804)
Scottish scientist John Gibb, picked up where Bacon had left off, and created the first slow sand water filter . He worked on a water filter facility that was installed in his hometown of Paisley, Scotland.
John Doulton’s Ceramic Water Filter (Late 1820s)
In 1827, John Doulton was experimenting with silica and fired clay. He found that if he added a small amount of these materials to water, it would create a ceramic filter that could remove impurities. This discovery led him to develop the first modern water filter.
He launched Doulton & Company company in 1827, which would later become known as Royal Doulton . Doulton was awarded a patent for his invention in 1846.
Even today, Doulton still makes some of the best ceramic water filters.
What was the first modern water filter like?
John Doulton’s original ceramic water filter was made from a combination of silica and fired clay. This material formed a porous filter that could remove impurities from water.
Doulton’s invention was an improvement on the cloth filters used at the time, as it was more effective at removing debris and other impurities from water.
In London at that time, the Thames River was very polluted. And people often got sick from drinking water that was not filtered properly. So Doulton’s ceramic water filter quickly gained widespread popularity as a means of removing impurities from water and preventing diseases such as cholera, which was often spread through contaminated water supplies.
The history of water filtration continued…
Louis Pasteur’s discoveries about bacteria (1862-1864)
One of the key principles of water filtration technology we use today is based on the work of Louis Pasteur. Pasteur was a French chemist who discovered that many diseases are caused by bacteria.
He developed a process called pasteurization , which is used to kill bacteria in food and drink. This process is still used today to make milk, juice and other drinks safe to drink.
Rapid Sand Filtration (1890s)
Water purification and treatment advances developed quickly in the United States. Municipal water treatment plants were upgraded to rapid sand-based filtration , which produced better water quality than slow sand filtration.
It was found that this method worked even better when it was combined with coagulation and sedimentation.
King Edward VII’s Royal Commission on Water Supplies (1903)
In 1903, King Edward VII established a Royal Commission on Water Supplies . This commission was responsible for investigating the quality of water supplies in the United Kingdom and making recommendations about how to improve them.
One of the commission’s recommendations was to improve water filtration technology. As a result, the first modern water treatment facilities were built in the UK during the early 1900s.
The Safe Drinking Water Act (1974)
The Safe Drinking Water Act was passed in the United States in 1974 . This act set standards for the quality of drinking water and required water utilities to treat water to meet these standards.
As a result, many communities began to build water filtration plants in order to ensure that their water met the new safety standards.
Brita, Pur & Modern Day Filtration
In 1966, a German company started marketing a water filtration pitcher, with the German name Haushaltswasserfilter I, translated simply as home water filter 1 .
This new type of pitcher was made from a plastic resin called polyethylene, which had been developed by the chemical company IG Farben in the 1930s.
This lead to the modern Brita and Pur style cartridge-based pitcher filter systems that many of us have in our kitchens.
This innovation led to the development of more types of household water filters for drinking and cooking purposes. Today, a wide variety of water filters are available, including pitchers, faucet-mounted filters, and whole-house filters.
Water filtration is an important part of ensuring that our drinking water is safe to consume. It is used in households and large-scale water treatment plants alike to remove debris, sediment, bacteria, and other impurities.
What’s next in water filtration technology?
As water supplies become increasingly scarce, the need for more efficient water filtration technology becomes greater.
One area of research that is currently being explored is membrane filtration. This technology uses a thin membrane to remove impurities from water.
Another promising area of research is nanotechnology. Nanotechnology involves the use of tiny particles (nanoparticles) that can be used to filter water more effectively.