Throughout the course of history, and spanning the breadth of the globe, the consumption of impure or unclean water has been one of the leading causes of death and disease. Botulism, cholera, E coli, dysentery, and typhoid fever are all caught by drinking contaminated water. Even if a pool of water is free of creepy-crawlies, virulent virus or malevolent bacteria, it may be dirty by being full of just dirt! Humans have been looking for ways to keep their water pure and clean for thousands of years.
The truly old school
The oldest method for purifying water, and still one of the most effective, is surprisingly simple – boil it. Boiling cannot remove some of the more modern contaminants like chemical toxins but it is almost 100 percent effective at killing off microbes and bacteria. The process is easy, heat water to its boiling point at 100 degrees Celsius, and watch the microbes cook away (Note – you can’t actually see this happen). Now wait until the water cools and enjoy!
Sir. Francis Bacon, member of the illustrious brother of Natural Philosophers, was the first prominent figure to apply some science to the purification of water. His goal was to desalinate sea water by passing it through a sand filter. While his 17th century experiment was almost entirely a failure it inspired others like Antonie Van Leeuwenheok and Robert Hooke to delve more deeply into the study of water purification.
Now we’re getting somewhere
Finally, in 1804, success! John Gibb, owner of a modest Scotland bleachery created the first sand filter which was successfully able to purify water. A few decades later, following some modest technical refinement, residence of the United Kingdom were treated to the instillation of their very own residential purification systems!