The Philadelphia Water Department has been providing water to citizens since 1801, when the city decided it needed a source of water to cleanse the streets, fight fires, and for household purposes.

While a number of private water companies had been established in other cities by that time, Philadelphia, with its city-owned and financed system, was one of the first in the U.S. to take on water supply as a municipal responsibility.

Check out the following resources to learn more about Philadelphia Water History:

PastPerfect Collection

Since the 1990s, staff and volunteers have been cataloguing the collection of historical material held by the archives of the Philadelphia Water Department.

This catalogue, which includes thousands of books, pamphlets, photographs, and other material, spans the 200 year history of water supply and drainage in Philadelphia.


You may also be interested in visiting an associated site, WaterHistoryPHL, which contains complete versions of a number of the documents, maps, and photographs listed in the catalogue, as well as information on the history of water supply, sewers, and watersheds in Philadelphia and vicinity. The site was developed by Adam Levine, historical consultant to the Philadelphia Water Department.

A few images from our Archive:
An 1855 view of Philadelphia
Navy Yard and Delaware River, 1832
The Back Bridge from Fair Mount Water Works, Graff Collection
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