History and Types of Pipe in the Ground

Early pipe was made from wood or clay and then with lead to make it water tight. Skilled workers in lead then became known as plumbers — a worker in lead who repairs or installs the water distribution in and to a building.

The Roman plumber plumbed pipe, soldered, installed and repaired pipe. He worked on roofs, gutters, sewers and drains; in essence, everything involving the supply and waste water. In fact, this general job description of plumbers’ work has lasted into present day.

Terracotta Pipe

Terracotta was the only ceramic produced pipe. Terracotta has been used throughout history for sculpture, roof shingles and bricks. The first clay pipe dried in the sun after being formed. Eventually kilns were used, similar to those used for pottery. Only after firing clay to high temperature can it be classified as a ceramic pipe.

Orangeburg Pipe

In 1893, Stephen Bradley, Sr. founded the Fiber Conduit Company in Orangeburg, New York. Bradley’s neighboring electric power plants used exhaust steam from their steam generators to dry the fiber conduit before sealing them with pitch. In turn, the conduits were used to run electrical wiring throughout numerous newly-constructed buildings across the country for the next forty years.

Orangeburg pipe was made in diameters from 2 inches to 18 inches out of wood pulp sealed with hot pitch. Joints were made in a similar fashion and, because of the materials involved, they were able to be sealed without the use of adhesives. Orangeburg was lightweight, albeit brittle, and soft enough to be cut with a handsaw. Orangeburg was a low cost alternative to metal for sewer lines in particular. Lack of strength causes pipes made of Orangeburg to fail more frequently than pipes made with other materials. The useful life for an Orangeburg pipe is about 50 years under ideal conditions, but this pipe been known to fail in as little as 10 years. It has been taken off the list of acceptable materials by most building codes.

It was observed in early usage that Orangeburg was susceptible to deformation from pressure. Thus, manufacturers urged “bedding” the pipes in sand or pea gravel to prevent rupture.

Transite Pipe

Transite originated as trade name that The Johns-Manville Corporation created for a line of asbestos-cement products, including boards and pipes. In time it became something of a generic term for other companies’ similar asbestos-cement products.

The use of asbestos to manufacture transite was phased out in the 1980s. Previously transite was made of cement, with varying amounts (12-50%) of asbestos fiber to provide tensile strength (similar to the steel in reinforced concrete, and other materials). It was frequently used for such purposes as furnace flues, shingles, siding, and wallboard in areas where fire retardancy was particularly important. It was also used in large supermarket walk-in coolers in the 1960s, 1970s and even the 1980s. Other uses included roof drain piping, water piping, sanitary sewer drain piping, and HVAC ducts. Because cutting, breaking, and machining asbestos-containing transite releases carcinogenic asbestos fibers into the air, it has fallen out of favor.

Cast Iron Pipe

The first use of cast iron pipe is not recorded. Cast iron tubes were first manufactured in the 14th century in Europe for cannons.

The flanged joints of cast-iron drainpipe were sealed with oakum and molten-lead. Many older buildings still contain cast iron sewage piping.

Concrete Pipe

The Romans developed cement and concrete similar to that which is used today. They mixed slaked lime with volcanic ash from Mt. Vesuvius to produce hydraulic cement that hardened under water and would not deteriorate when exposed to moisture.

Some pipelines and aqueducts constructed using this concrete are still in use today. The oldest recorded modern-day concrete pipe installation is a sanitary sewer constructed in 1842 at Mohawk in New York State, USA. It remained in operation for over 100 years. The French were the first to incorporate steel reinforcement in concrete pipe in 1896. The concept was brought to America in 1905.