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How Pipe Changed the World

What’s the greatest human invention? I’ve read many articles exploring that question and most authors said something along the lines of computers, the internet, electricity, smart phones, cars, antibiotics but I have never read an article that picked pipe. I can easily imagine living without a smart phone but living without a toilet and running water is a disturbing thought.

Without pipe and pipe fittings the world as we know it today wouldn’t exist. Piping systems bring water into homes and businesses and take out the waste. Out-houses have gone from common-place to nearly extinct in the last 100 years because of pipe and pipe fittings.

My father was born in 1935, in the USA. The home his family lived in didn’t have indoor plumbing. It wasn’t until he turned 18 and left home that he had running water in his house. That personal anecdote is not unusual for that period in the United States.

The Industrial Revolution was possible because of the pipe used in smoke stacks. After all, a smoke stack is nothing more than a large pipe. Underneath the smoke stacks were factories producing products that started the ground work for the modern world. Around the same time standardization of pipe sizes was initiated. Pipe sizes needed to be standardize to facilitate joining piping systems together from more than one source. Prior to the establishment of pipe sizes, lead was wrapped into pipe shape and the sizes varied greatly. Most of us who’ve worked with pipe find it annoying that so-called pipe size has nothing to do with any true measurement found on a tape measure or calipers.

Oil has also played a big part in creating the modern world. To this day oil is the stuff that makes the world go ‘round and that will continue for decades to come. Oil pipe lines and fittings are at the center of politics and in some cases wars: Alaskan pipe line, Iraq and Afghanistan to name a few. Pipes, face-flanges, valves and fittings seem trivial until we consider what the world would be like without them.

Next time you are driving your car and hit the brakes give a big “thank you” to the brake lines that stop your vehicle. Brake line tubing and fittings connect your brake pedal to your brakes and that connection saves your life every time your car stops. Brake lines are a piping system that directs hydraulic fluid where it needs to go to help you control your car. There are also miles of pipe and tubing in every airplane. 

Pipe and pipe fittings are responsible for millions of jobs all around the world. When I was young I went to the steel mill where my grandfather worked. The mill turned iron ore into steel pipe and rails. The work was hard and the mill was hot and the odor was foul but the pay from factories like that one helped to move many families from poverty to the middle class.

Pipe and pipe fittings are in a very small category of essential products that I consider future proof. Computers and the internet have been the death-nail for many businesses, but piping lives on. After all a computer can’t replace your toilet. As the population continues to grow new houses will be built and plumbing will be installed. All infrastructures decay and must be upgrade and replaced and the same is true of old pipe systems. The world will always need more pipe and plumbers.

As you can tell I have a very high regard for piping systems and pipe fitting components. Pipe gets my vote for the greatest human invention.

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