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History of PVC Pipe

Catherine Rayburn-Trobaug

PVC, or polyvinyl chloride, became a popular plumbing material in the 20th century because of its durability, ease of installation and low cost. It has revolutionized how municipalities deliver water and dispose of sewage, making that process safer and more reliable.


Polyvinyl chloride was developed in the 19th century by the French chemist Henri Victor Regnault. However, in its rigid form, it was impractical for many applications. It wasn't until the 1920s, when other types of plastics were added by the B.F. Goodrich company, that PVC was pliable enough for pipes.


PVC pipes were clearly superior to metal pipes for water and sewage because they didn't rust or corrode. Germany was the first country to take advantage of this, and by 1936 PVC pipes were installed for drinking water. Because of the durbale nature of PVC pipes, many of these original pipes are still in operation.

United States

PVC pipes were put into general use in the mid-1950s in the United States. Over the next few decades, improvements in the composition and manufacture of PVC pipe made it a common choice for new residential buildings throughout the country.


The manufacturing of PVC pipe has had a great impact on its history of use. The original method of making PVC pipe was to melt a powdered form of PVC and then roll it out. This method was cumbersome and expensive and gave rise to the ram extruder method, in which the melted PVC is pushed through a mold to give it a uniform shape. New types of flexible plastics were developed in the 1960s that increased flexibility.


Over time, the safety of PVC pipe has come into question. Early versions of PVC pipes were known to burst under extreme pressure or during installation, but the addition of flexible plastics took care of the problem. Recently, there has been a controversy over the quality of drinking water coming through the pipes. This however, isn't caused by the PVC itself, but rather because of a buildup of bacteria in the joints of the pipes.