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City of Philadelphia

Historical 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.

Search the Historical Collection

Click the link above to search the collection.

Tips on Searching

You'll find many traditional ways to access the collection, using keyword and advanced search techniques. Another way to quickly see the breadth of material is to use the "Click & Search" feature, which provides alphabetical lists of material found under various catalogue headings.

The site also includes an email feature, in which catalogue records can be emailed to friends (or to yourself). Our hope is that users will give us feedback on how to make the catalogue more complete, and perhaps help us identify some of the photographs for which we currently have scanty information.

Please feel free to contact us, using the feedback form, with any questions about any of the material you find in the catalogue.


You may also be interested in visiting an associated site, PhillyH2O, which contains complete versions of a number of the documents, maps and photographs listed in the catalogue, as well as a wealth of other 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.

Contact Archives


The Philadelphia Water Department has been providing water to citizens since 1801, when, in the aftermath of a series of devastating yellow fever epidemics that killed thousands of people, 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. Continue reading a brief history of the Philadelphia Water Department.