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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.

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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.

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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.