In All the Modern Conveniences Maureen Ogle examines the beginnings of "modern plumbing" in the United States. Ogle traces the American system of plumbing back to roots in the 1840s, challenging earlier studies which Ogle claims are flawed by the presentist assumption that municipal water and sewage systems are essential for the development of a society with adequate plumbing, and by a sense that certain technological inventions are inevitable. Ogle attempts to avoid the determinist conclusions of technologists and what she calls the "nebulous issue of technology's impact." (p. 157) Instead her study rests on the premise that adoption of plumbing, or any technology, arises from a particular set of cultural values, and changes in the use of technology reflect changes in those same values. She assumes that the decision to use a technology is rational and reveals people's determination of how to best order their world.

Ogle identifies three stages in the development of household plumbing in the United States: 1840-1869 individualist adoption of manifold devices; 1870-1890 development of standardized devices linked to municipal water and sewage systems; 1890-present widespread assumption of plumbing's presence and improved regulation of the system. The text details the first two of these stages. The greatest strength of the work lies in Ogle's elucidation of these earliest stages of household plumbing and the changing rhetoric about plumbing devices. Basing her conclusions on extensive review of architectural plans, manufacturers' catalogs and housing reform literature, Ogle lays to rest the learn this here now claim of her predecessors that there could be few well-plumbed homes without the support of municipal water and sewage systems. Her compendium of the variety of devices available to homeowners in the period from 1840-1869 is impressive, as is her review of the 1870-1890 literature from sanitarians who sought to reform plumbing in order to improve health. In brief she proves her contention that plumbing of a significant number of homes was possible, and even probable, before the advent of municipal water and sewer systems. She also illustrates well that reform of household plumbing from 1870-1890 either preceded or was simultaneous with the development of such systems.

Her account of the link between American cultural values and the creation of two distinct plumbing arrangements is intriguing but less definitive. I am sympathetic to Ogle's rejection of the conventional approach which identifies technological innovation as the motivating force behind change. I agree with her contention that we must stop seeing "ourselves as mastered by, rather than masters of, our technology." (p. 153) Ogle admits she relies on standard secondary works in her description of general American culture from 18401869 and 1870-1890. She claims that from 1840-1869 housing reformers' ideas about appropriate plumbing originated in the American fascination with gadgetry and the antebellum spirit of independence, democratization, and national betterment through self-betterment. Therefore plumbing adoption focused on introduction of devices to improve household convenience, while protecting household independence from both servants and municipal authority. In the later period a culture of scientism replaced self-improvement and humanitarianism as the most fundamental cultural impulse. This new culture gave greater weight to a view of cities as organically interdependent, thereby providing the impetus for creating standardized devices and centralized municipal water and sewage systems.

To support her assertions about the values which influenced individual decisions, Ogle has unearthed a handful of extraordinary manuscripts from each period in which real people write about their own plumbing or that of friends. In most cases the sources from the earlier period do use convenience or improvement to describe devices, but her own sources also use "comfort of life," "beautiful," and "luxury" to describe their perception of plumbing apparatus. Ogle endeavors to define convenience in midcentury terms, but for the most part she uses the word as a synonym for ease or efficiency of operation. As a result, desire for "convenience" as a shorthand descriptor of the value that led to early adoption of plumbing seems both insufficient and inaccurate. We need to know convenient for whom and in what way. Who decided that an indoor facility that had to be cleaned frequently was more "convenient" than an outdoor privy and why? Indeed her own sources indicate how very inconvenient these contraptions could be: pipes froze, water-heaters exploded, basins and pipes leaked, water-closets overflowed. To be fair Ogle is simply trying to demonstrate what motivated the choice to install plumbing, rather than discuss the actual experience people had as a result of these choices, but this seems a rather artificial distinction to made since experience does influence motivation.

Finally, Ogle replaces technological determinism with a form of cultural determinism. The independent, self-improvement spirit of midcentury caused the development of diverse technological solutions. The heightened acceptance of scientific explanation caused the culture of fear surrounding plumbing in the 1870s-1890s, leading to the creation of "sanitary science." Perhaps the better answer is that technology and culture are interactive forces operating simultaneously. For example, it is possible that, though installed to improve household convenience, the initial devices had reached the limits of their technological capacity. Independent water delivery systems were too unreliable to fulfill the expectation of greater efficiency and ease. There were certainly limitations on the numbers which could be served by haphazard, independent systems without significantly increasing environmental depredations, as sanitarians discovered in the 1870s and later. Therefore the earlier technology was inherently undemocratic as well. Ogle confirms that inventors were tinkering with the appliances from the beginning as they attempted to meet unfulfilled expectations. Might we assume that the new pro-science culture and simultaneous technological innovation together led to the creation of contemporary plumbing systems?



In conclusion, All the Modern Conveniences serves as a model case study in the link between private and public life in the evolution of industrial society. It represents a valiant attempt to move discussion of the history of technology beyond both technological determinism and what Ogle calls the "wild goose chase" of technological impact. Its intriguing use Resources of manuscripts from ordinary, middle-class householders indicates that it may be possible to get inside their heads to figure out why they did what they did.

Jacqueline Wilkie Luther College

https://www.thefreelibrary.com/AlltheModernConveniences:AmericanHouseholdPlumbing,1840-1890.-a020574150