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Water Supply and Plumbing

Robert C. Schmitt, Courtesy of the Hawaiian Historical Society

Before 1820, Islanders relied on springs and fresh water streams for their water supply. In that year, missionary wife Maria Loomis visited the home of Anthony Allen two miles east of Honolulu and recorded the presence of a well, which she believed to be "the only one on the Island."

Work on a piped water supply system for Honolulu was first undertaken in 1847-1848. The new line conveyed water from a taro patch mauka of Beretania Street, between Fort and Emma, to a water tank erected "for the convenience of shipping" near the wharf at the foot of Nu‘uanu Avenue.

By 1851 a small masonry reservoir had been completed near Nu‘uanu and Bates Street, to serve vessels coming into port as well as businesses and dwellings along the route. The earliest plumber in Hawai‘i was G. Segelken, who arrived in 1850.

Six years later, King Kamehameha IV had Hawai‘i’s first flushing toilets installed in his house on the ‘Iolani Palace grounds. In 1861, the National House became the first Island hotel with water closets. Residents, however, were slow to adopt such conveniences: as late as 1940, the census revealed that only 63.2 percent of all dwelling units in the territory had access to a flush toilet.

Perforated toilet paper, first manufactured in 1871, eventually reached Hawai‘i, but the year is unknown. Toilet paper was initially advertised in Honolulu newspapers in 1926, four rolls for 25 cents.

Sewers appeared quite late in Island history. Construction of the first sewers was commenced in 1899, long after sanitation problems in Honolulu had reached an intolerable state. A 1944 plan revealed many residential areas in the city still lacking in adequate facilities.