Taps. Then and Now.

March 29, 2023

A brief, fascinating history.

A tap is a tap is a tap. Except in the States, where it’s a faucet – a word taken from

‘fausset’ – a medieval French word for ‘the bung in a barrel’. The English ‘tap’ is taken from the Anglo Saxon (Old English) ‘taeppa’, meaning, you guessed it, ‘the bung in a barrel’. And yet, water from an American faucet is called ‘tap water’, so...

... anyway. About taps, then.

You can thank an American fellow by the name of Alfred Moen for the modern basin and sink mixers you use today. Just a young engineering student, he invented what he called ‘a single-handle mixing faucet’ back in 1937 – after a nasty incident when he burnt his fingers in scalding hot water from an old fashioned spigot (yes, yet another term for a tap, this time, now generally used to describe an outdoor fixture).

Ingenious Alf continued to refine his invention after WW2 and by 1959, Fortune Magazine named his ‘single-handle faucet’ one of the top 100 best-designed mass-produced products, right up there next to Henry Ford’s Model T Ford and Benjamin Franklin’s safer fire stove! (What, what? Ben Franklin invented the stove?)

But let’s take you back a bit and tap in to the evolution of water flow systems, which begins in 1700 BC.

In the 1900s, during excavations to uncover the 1700 BC Minoan Palace of Knossos in Crete, archaeologists unearthed a system of terracotta pipes, with taps made from precious metals like gold and silver.

776 BC. Greece. Bodily and mental fitness was a thing – these were the folks who invented the Olympic Games, after all – cold water systems were used rather than hot, which was considered namby-pamby and only good for women! In Athens, water travelled down from the mountains via channels to street fountains, many of which are still in use today. There were spouts and there were spigots of sorts, although common folk used water urns rather than indoor plumbing. Enter the Romans, who crushed the Greeks, and refined the water delivery systems.

470 BC. Rome. This was the heyday of Roman engineering, with roads and aqueducts; reliable access to water really got a boost. Lead pipes were used (those gents had no idea of the mental damage caused by lead in the body), with brass water valves pretty much like the ones we use today. Elite villas and the swankier homes were fitted with valves for separate hot water, cold water and a ‘readymix’ of warm water. Everyone else used public baths, public latrines and fountains.

Let’s not forget that the world didn’t revolve around the Roman Empire – although the great Caesars would probably have been shocked to hear it! Around the same time on the other side of the globe, the highly sophisticated dynasties of Ancient China were quietly and successfully inventing incredible things like gunpowder, the compass and paper. They were also using dragon-shaped valves carved out of brass at the end of pipes made from bamboo to deliver water.

AD 43 – 410. The Roman Empire extended into England and Western Europe and wealthy landowners, the church and the nobility were introduced to water delivery systems and water control valves.

5th – 14th Century. With the collapse of the Roman Empire, sophisticated European infrastructure went down the drain, as the Dark Ages took over. Back to muddy wells. 900 years of pretty much tapless living.

14th Century. Just emerging into the Middle Ages, taps were still pretty thin on the ground in the UK, but unsurprisingly, a tap features in King Edward III’s bathtub in Westminster Palace. For everyone else? Wells and rivers.

18th Century. Plumbing and taps were available around the world, but indoor taps and plumbing were only for the moneyed minority.

19th Century. With the Industrial Revolution’s mechanisation rumbling into being from around 1740, mass production became a thing. Thankfully, many elite items became democratised, including taps for the previously untapped. Around this time, a clever chap called Thomas Grill invented the tap spout aerator nozzle with threading which adjusted the water flow.

1970s. The arrival of the ceramic disc single lever mixer.

  1. A brilliant Ozzie guy called Norman Wareham filed a patent for his hands-free invention which he called the sensor-activated tap.


Today. We’re in the early stages of the fourth industrial revolution. Robotics. AI. Smart Homes. Nano and biotechnology. 3D printing. Quite a lot of chitchat about colonising Mars. There’s no doubt that the tap’s historical journey to improve the quality of life for all will become exponential. (Mind control taps?)


Tomorrow. We can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings. And you can bet you’ll be the first to experience new tap technology as it happens, with Italtile. We will continue to bring you the latest and most luxe taps as they trend, to help take luxury living to new heights of convenience, functionality and sustainability.


Live Beautifully.