First Recorded Purifiers
Ancient records, written in Sanskrit, reveal that civilizations as far back as 2000 B.C. boiled water to purify it. The same writings also contain descriptions of simple sand and charcoal filtration devices. However, these ancient peoples purified water just to make it taste better. They realized that the water tasted better because the boiling or filtering made it cleaner, but they did not realize that they were cleaning out harmful substances.
According to RandomHistory.com, in around 500 B.C. Hippocrates, the famous Greek physician experimented with water filtration. He hypothesized that clean water possessed certain healing qualities and started purifying water for medical treatments, using a device of his own invention called a "Hippocratic sleeve." The sleeve was essentially a tightly-knit cloth bag, through which Hippocrates would pour boiling water, explains HistoryofWaterFilters.com.
Widespread Purifier Use
With the invention of the microscope in 1676, microorganisms in water were first discovered. Naturally, people did not like the idea of drinking tiny bugs, and water filtration, for the purpose of actually purifying the water, started to become commonplace throughout the 18th century. At home, people used a variety of filtration mediums, including sand, charcoal, sponge and wool, says the Random History website. Eventually, the practice was applied to some public water supplies.
In the early 1800s, Scottish scientist Robert Thom designed the first municipal, or citywide, water purification plant in Paisley, Scotland. The design used slow sand filters to purify the water.
In 1827, English scientist James Simpson designed a similar municipal water filtration plant, also using slow sand filters. His design was subsequently implemented throughout most of England, and, in 1852, English law implemented the purification plants nationwide.
In 1854, England experienced a rampant outbreak of cholera, due to contaminated drinking water, according to RandomHistory.com. Scientist John Snow suspected as much after noting that neighborhoods closer to the filtration plants experienced fewer outbreaks. He eventually discovered raw sewage leaking into the water and used chlorine to sanitize it. Soon, chlorine was added to all public drinking water in Great Britain. Today, many water treatment facilities use chlorine in the purification process.
Between 1926 and 1931, a number of different scientists developed a discovery originally made by Jean-Antoine Nolett in 1748, called osmosis, explains LabManager.com. They discovered how to reverse the process and purify water, calling it reverse osmosis.