Plumbing the City. The regulation of sanitary installers in urban Europe (1850-1940)

Project Details


Between 1850 and 1940, governments were heavily concerned with
improving the hygienic conditions in many European cities,
intervening both in the provision of public utilities of water supply and
sewage and in the construction of private sanitary installations. In
contrast to ample business-historical studies on the relation between
the state and distribution companies, it is unclear how sanitary
regulations affected the supply side of the urban market for private
sanitary installations. By connecting public utilities to bathrooms and
water-closets, plumbers catered to the city’s essential needs.
Analysing how their organisation and know-how were affected by
regulation allows to contribute to debates in economic history that,
following Polanyi, are centred on the impact of governments and the
level of (de)regulation in the market economy of the nineteenth and
twentieth centuries. London, Paris and Brussels present interesting
cases to study how common urban problems could lead to different
paths adopted in tackling them. They needed the same resources of
drinking water and sewage disposal to sustain their growth, but they
developed different urban-morphological contexts and different levels
of sanitary government intervention. By using policy sources,
censuses, trade directories and archives of trade associations, this
project will increase our understanding of how governments were
able to impact the supply side of the market in order to create
healthier urban environments.
Effective start/end date1/10/2230/09/25


  • Small-scale entrepreneurship
  • Urban governance and market regulation
  • Sanitary installations and public utilities

Flemish discipline codes in use since 2023

  • European history
  • Socio-economic history
  • Regional and urban history
  • Business and labour history
  • Modern and contemporary history


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