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If I were to survey 100 people on what they thought was the most important room in the house, most would answer with the kitchen. We cook in the kitchen. Eat in the kitchen. And with today’s technology, some of us watch television, check email and scroll through Facebook while in the kitchen. It’s the one room in the house where family and friends gather to gossip and catch up with each other’s lives. The kitchen is also the most renovated/upgraded room in the home. If I were to also survey those same 100 people and ask what they thought was the best invention for the kitchen, votes would be split between the stove and the refrigerator, with maybe a handful picking the sink.
Modern kitchen sinks come in various sizes and materials. Some are porcelain, others stainless steel, and some are round bowls of colorful ceramic tiles. A faucet turns the hot and cold water on and off, making it easy to wash dishes or fruits and vegetables. But less than two hundred years ago, washing dishes was a laborious chore.
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City homes in the 1800’s had one room for cooking and washing dishes. Farm houses had one central room combining the parlor, kitchen, and bedroom. In each dwelling, the sink was nothing more than a wooden basin set on a table or a bench. Water had to be hauled into the home from a nearby pond or stream, heated on the stove and then poured into the basin to wash dishes. Afterward, the dirty water was tossed out the front door into the street or fed to the pigs. Many homes collected rain water in a barrel, but some homes had the ability to catch rain water with basement or rooftops cisterns, and the ability to dispose of the wastewater through underground brick or wood box drains.
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With the incorporation of a rough sewer system in major cities, the kitchen sink transformed from a wood basin to a shallow wood or stone trough set on table legs or inserted onto a window sill or the top of a cabinet. (The cabinet style is referred to as a dry sink by antique dealers.) In the beginning of its use, the trough held a basin, but water still had to be hauled in from outside sources. As plumbing technology advanced from using hallowed out logs fused together with iron hoops to lead and copper piping laid out in ditches, homes could now fit a wood or iron pump to the end of the trough and connect to the piping system. City folks tapped into the city’s public system while farmhouses tapped into their own ponds or springs.
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Eventually, the wood or stone troughs were replaced with factory built sinks of enameled cast iron, granite, steel, and slate. These sinks were sealed with a glaze of white enamel and could be sterilized and easily wiped cleaned. Drains came onto the scene shortly after and attached to the sewer system so the wastewater wouldn’t have to be hauled outside and dispelled. Faucets were added, and the sink became a permanent fixture in the kitchen.
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