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Reviewed by Sarah S. Elkind, University of Wisconsin -- Stevens Point, for H-Urban <email@example.com> Maureen Ogle. _All the Modern Conveniences: American Household Plumbing, 1840-1890_. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996. xii +160 pp. Illustrations, notes, bibliographic essay, and index. $39.95 (cloth), ISBN 0-8018-5227-7. In the middle of the nineteenth century, Americans embraced indoor plumbing. According to Maureen Ogle's _All the Modern Conveniences_, they celebrated appliances because they decreased household drudgery and increased privacy. That their much-loved appliances smelled as bad as an outhouse and frequently clogged, froze or broke did not initially reduce their enthusiasm. Americans grew critical of bathroom gadgetry only after their justifications for indoor plumbing shifted from convenience to disease-prevention. Ogle dates this change to the rise of sanitary science in the 1860s and 1870s. For a few years thereafter, fear that deadly sewer gas could leak into private homes actually drove some Americans to return to the outdoor privy and the pitcher and washbasin. Seeing plumbing in terms of health, rather than convenience, prompted Americans to reconsider the links between individual and community, household appliance and municipal service network, and household and metropolis. According to Ogle, the emphasis on the part within the whole both led sanitarians and engineers to build comprehensive, water supply-sewerage networks, and gave rise to the antecedents of modern appliances. Ogle begins her story before the rise of the sanitary revolution explored most extensively in the literature. But she is still interested in the transition from private to public solutions for common household needs. She seeks the origin of the networking of the American city in individuals' expectations of household plumbing, in the cultural roots of technological change. According to Ogle, Americans embraced indoor plumbing well in advance of urban water and sewer service. They risked extensive water damage to their homes to build cisterns in attics and closets. Once filled, these tanks provided a household with running water for a wide variety of appliances. Families, plumbers and architects developed a wide variety of idiosyncratic solutions to specific plumbing needs. These Ogle has described in detail, supplemented with excellent illustrations. Quotations from advice manuals and home-owners portray these inventions as consistent with conceptions of privacy and domesticity; specifically they removed private acts from public view and reduced the drudgery associated with carrying water, washing, and removing household wastes. In addition, Ogle notes, plumbing was valued as a celebration of technology and a physical manifestation of American initiative and prosperity. Isolated from urban public service networks, according to Ogle, those who installed early plumbing appliances did so in response to their perceptions of their own needs. Without the constraints of larger technological networks, building codes and public health considerations, early devices reflected the individualistic spirit of the early nineteenth century. Much of this changed after the Civil War. New scientific studies emphasized universality, and when applied to practical problems, standardized solutions to common problems. Sanitarians attacked as filthy and dangerous the mechanisms once heralded as models of convenience and modernity. Fear of sewer gas prompted the innovative ventilation pipes, water-traps and non-mechanical flush toilets that eventually yielded modern bathroom and kitchen fixtures. As sanitary scientists and public health officials took over from home-owners and architects, plumbing became subject to increasing public regulation and seen as part of a much larger network. According to Ogle, the same conceptual framework that brought Americans the pipelines carrying water to and from their homes increasingly emphasized individuals' connections to the larger society. Ogle's approach yields a number of important insights. Her exploration of the technologies that preceded widespread public service networks is an important contribution to the history of technology and public works, as are her observations about individuals' and society's priorities for plumbing. But her focus on refuting the work of other authors leads her away from the strengths of her own argument, particularly in her introduction and conclusion. She never fully explores the context of social and infrastructural transformation. This transformation of private to public services in the nineteenth century took place in the context of massive social and cultural change. Identifying commonalities between the technological manifestations of these changes in domestic plumbing and their impact on municipal politics, urban planning, social reform and medicine, for example, could only have added to this work. Greater discussion of changing gender roles or domestic culture might have been interesting as well. Just as Ogle's narrow focus directs her attention away from social and political contexts, it tends to limit her discussion of the values that determined choice of technology. In particular, Ogle overlooks the importance of health in early public water systems, and social or economic status in private reactions to new technologies. Boston's public water debates, for example, focused on the health benefits of pure water as early as 1823; in the 1840s, the city actively promoted domestic water use to ensure that the new water system had the greatest possible impact on public health. As Ogle states, many American cities did build public works after the 1870s because the standards for services changed. Many others, however, adopted networks to attract business and because such public investment defined communities as proper cities.(1) Similar perceptions of status may very well have motivated individuals before the age of the network. A slightly broader scope and greater consideration of the nineteenth political, cultural and environmental context in which plumbing evolved could have added richness to this work. Ogle seems to intend her work to refute existing literature on the expansion of public works, and the relative importance of cultural values and technological innovation in nineteenth century municipal enterprise. This literature has sought the origins of increased public responsibility in nineteenth century politics, culture and technology. Most notably, Joel Tarr has examined the role of technological advances in solving specific urban problems, precipitating new ones and, in the process, casting urban needs in new light.(2) Martin Melosi and Robin Einhorn have focused on the political battles that surrounded and found expression in sanitary reforms.(3) Meanwhile, historians of medicine, public health and urban planning have explored the way changing explanations of disease increased public enterprise on the grounds that a clean and orderly city would breed healthy, moral citizens. The distinction that Ogle wants to draw between cultural engines of technological change and technology's influence on society are not mutually exclusive. Culture and artifact clearly influence each other; Ogle gains little by so vigorously attacking technology's contribution to the networking of American cities. Ogle's conclusions complement rather than contradict this literature, and provide an interesting view of the private choices behind public decisions. _All the Modern Conveniences_ describes not only how individuals actually built and used household plumbing in the early nineteenth century, but also what motivated them to experiment with innovative technology. Ogle offers an important perspective on why technology changed after the Civil War, and how that change was linked to other cultural trends. Her greatest strength lies in her detailed descriptions of actual appliances and the nitty-gritty of individuals' use and perceptions of mechanical innovations in the mid-nineteenth century. Notes: 1. William Cronon discusses the role of boosters in promoting public enterprise in _Nature's Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West_ (Norton, 1991). For a discussion of small cities emulating larger neighbors, see Thomas Scott's "The Diffusion of Urban Government Forms as a Case of Social Learning," _Journal of Politics_, 30 (1968): 1091-1108. 2. Tarr has written extensively on this subject. His recent collection of essays, _The Search for the Ultimate Sink: Urban Pollution in Historical Perspective_, (Univ. of Akron Press, 1996), provides a good introduction to his conclusions about technology and urban public works. 3. Martin V. Melosi, _Garbage in the Cities: Refuse, Reform and the Environment, 1880-1980_ (Texas A & M Univ. Press, 1981); Robin Einhorn, _Property Rules: Political Economy in Chicago, 1833-1872_ (Univ. of Chicago Press, 1991). Copyright (c) 1997 by H-Net, all rights reserved. This work may be copied for non-profit educational use if proper credit is given to the author and the list. For other permission, please contact H-Net@H-Net.Msu.Edu