#21 Fairmount Water Works


First large-scale application of steam pumping, later water power, to public water supply

At a time when steam power was finding its first uses in America, Philadelphia opened two steam pumping stations, January 1801, to lift water from the Schuylkill River and distribute it through the city's wooden pipes and mains. By 1811 a new water power works was begun on the river near Morris Hill, and the Fairmount Water Works opened September 7, 1815. These water works represented the first large-scale application of steam pumping to water service in the country.

The new works were powered by a Boulton and Watt condensing steam engine that had been salvaged and a high-pressure engine designed by Oliver Evans (1755-1819). Steam boilers, at that time, were costly and Evans' exploded twice. By 1822 the city returned to waterwheels and pumps, including double-acting force pumps designed by Frederick Graff, Sr. In 1851 the first Geylin-Jonval water turbines were installed. All the waterwheels were replaced by turbines by 1866. The wooden mains had been replaced by iron ones in 1820, and by 1849 cast iron piping had replaced the wooden distribution system.

Comments from Visitors/Members
In essence, a site partly displayed and partly restored but unassembled, none of it is operable. No staff is on site. Owned by the City of Philadelphia. Section to investigate service opportunities at the Interpretive Center that are ideally suited to engineers, esp. in motive power history.

Film called 'The City and the River' focuses national attention on infrastructure needs. Fairmount Park Commission raises funds for restoration (address at the Interpretive Center). The address in full is the Fairmount Water Works Interpretive Center, Philadelphia Water Dept, ARA Tower at Reading Center, 1101 Market Street, 3d floor, Philadelphia, PA 19107. - 1992, Stephen H. Gibbons.

Fairmount Water Works, wood engraving, George W. Gorton, 1843. From Sherman Day's Historical Collections of the State of Pennsylvania. PA. Image source: philaprintshop.com.

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Landmark Location

Interpretive Center, Philadelphia Water Department
1101 Market St, 3d floor
Philadelphia, PA 19107

Owner, if different than above

Phily Water Dept, Water Works

Visiting Info

Tours offered April to November, Wed to Sun, 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.

Ceremony Notes

March 1977

Plaque location, if specific

NE corner of Engine House

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