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Ever since the onset of human civilization, the treatment and elimination of human waste have been one of humanity’s top issues. The septic tank system is a fairly recent development in the history of waste elimination. 

Historically, before any of the state regulations, settlers and colonials were being creative in their ways of getting rid of human waste. Of course, the history of septic tanks began with privies (outhouses) and ultimately plumbing that was generally discharged directly into the water, a process which proved to be sub-standard, as history has shown. This type of primary waste treatment led to complaints and numerous health issues related to poor water quality. Numerous third-world countries, unfortunately, still don’t have running water or proper sanitation, leading to disease outbreaks such as cholera, E. coli, and giardia.

Although societies have tried perfecting sanitation over the centuries, it wasn't until the early 1860s that the first “septic tank” was constructed and put to use using concrete and complexion pipes. Still, it wasn't until the 1940s that human waste disposal standards were used in populated areas.

Many of the first “precast tanks” were made of essence generally known as “dickey tanks,” and were mass-produced and ended as a unit with a 500-gallon round vessel with a lid. Many of these tanks are still performing in the county. At this point in history, you could also order an entire house in a tackle from the Sears and Roebuck roster.

The idea of the septic tank is to trap the solids and to let the clear effluent from the tank drain into an underground drain field, or frequently as in former decades, rain spouts were connected to the nearest gutter or sluice. Most of these situations have been corrected over time but many are still operating and contributing to pollution into our ground and body of water.

The History of Waste Elimination

Many of the early societies were established near gutters, which not only provided a source of fresh water for irrigation, but also a system for waste elimination. Once technologies advanced for carrying water inland, societies sprang up further down from generous water sources, and new styles for dealing with wastewater had to be developed. 

The Minoans of Ancient Greece were the first to create water irrigation technologies that would further enable human civilization to thrive inland, including underground pipeline systems, and flush toilets. The Romans took these inventions and improved them by adding their capacity to use water for sanitation in large cities. After the fall of the Roman Empire, people moved down from cities and decided on a more ‘pastoral’ way of life. Outhouses, which featured deep holes dug into the ground, became the standard system for dealing with human waste.

The Invention of the Septic Tank System

Jean-Louis Mouras constructed the well-known septic system when he combined the Ancient Greek conception of the flush restroom, using complexion pipes to transport the wastewater out of his house, with the modern conception of sinks, which collected waste and were manually voided from time to time. Mouras added a sealed tank where the wastewater will be held while allowing the overflow to flow out. After ten times of use with no issue, Mouras was curious to see what was going on inside the tank. When he cracked the lid and gazed outside, he was surprised to find the tank nearly empty, with just a thin subcaste of waste remaining. In the times that followed, he enlisted the help of a scientist, Abbe Moigno, to develop a prototype. In 1881, Mouras patented the Mouras Automatic Scavenger, and within two times, his design had made its way to the United States, where it didn't take long for the invention to garner attention.

The Modern Septic System

Early American septic systems stuck closely to Mouras’s design and were made of concrete. By the 1940s, septic systems were common, and by the 1960s, when these systems began failing, significant advancements to the overall design were developed. Old septic systems were generally anaerobic. The new systems use an aerator to produce a more effective aerobic terrain. One significant change for modern septic system use is the wide recognition that regular, routine conservation is needed to keep the system performing properly. 


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