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A Career In Plumbing

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

The advances in the study of sanitation have brought the work of the plumber into prominence. The plumber of today must be more than a mere mechanic; he must be somewhat of a sanitary engineer, for it devolves upon him to help maintain the health of the community. Sanitary plumbing is a protection against disease and is a necessity for healthy homes, and so the plumber has not only a good trade, but one which advances the welfare of the community in which he lives. Epidemics, fevers and other ills are often directly traceable to faulty plumbing; and the conscientious workman, who makes his trade a scientific one, performs a real public service. The hygiene of the dwelling house as well as of the factory and office building must receive due consideration if the productive power of the workers is to be kept at its highest point, and this work to a large extent devolves upon the plumber.

Modern plumbing, as a trade, consists in the arranging and running of pipes to supply water to buildings, the setting up of fixtures in order that the supply may be utilized and the installation of other pipes for resulting waste matter. The plumber must also have a knowledge of hot-water and steam-heating systems, although such work often is done by a steam fitter, whose duties will be discussed later. The young man who desires to become a plumber, must first serve as a plumber's helper. He carries the tools, supplies the plumber with materials, cuts pipes and threads and makes minor fittings. As an apprentice or helper, he has an opportunity to learn by observation and gradually to acquire skill in his trade. The period of apprenticeship is dependent upon the ability of the man and upon local conditions, and may last from two to four years. The plumber's helper acts as an assistant until he has fully demonstrated his ability to install plumbing, when he attains the rank of journeyman plumber. His duties then include the installation and repair of all plumbing and fixtures, which involve the running and connecting of pipes, brazing and wiping of joints and the connecting of traps, vents, cocks, etc.

The journeyman plumber may develop into a foreman, who supervises the installation and maintenance of all classes of sanitary plumbing and fixtures. To become a foreman he must be an all round licensed plumber and must be able to work from drawings and to lay out all types of work. He must have had wide experience on contracts while a journeyman plumber, and be an expert in his line.

If the plumber desires to specialize along one line, he has an opportunity to do so. He may, for instance, become a marine plumber, whose duties are to install and repair all plumbing equipment and fixtures on ships. Such a man must have served his apprenticeship with a marine plumber and must be an adept in handling large sizes of lead pipe.

The plumber may prefer to build up a business of his own in the community in which he works. Since he owns his tools, they, with his experience, can form the foundation of that business, even if he has only a limited amount of capital. It is the usual thing for the plumber in the smaller cities to run his own business and, if he has the tact and determination to accomplish that much, the business may become a growing one.

The plumbing trade has now often come to be a merchandizing business, and the plumber who owns his business is now also selling supplies. This is a very satisfactory method of combining merchandising with a trade, for the plumber does not have to keep a very extensive stock, but handle just the type of goods that will be needed for his work.

Since all plumbing must be installed properly, as the building departments inspect not only the plans but also the buildings, there is an opportunity for the wide-awake man to become a building inspector. An inspector must have a wide knowledge of the plumbing trade and should have learned it just as thoroughly as though he expected to practice it.

The man who prefers steam fitting to plumbing has a trade which demands a thorough knowledge of the fitting of all types and sizes of steam lines, the making of pump, boiler, oil, air and radiator connections and the connecting up and adjusting of steam thermostats and gages. He must first become an apprentice or helper, and assist the journeyman steam fitter. He must be able to read drawings and make ordinary measurements and calculations, in order that he may qualify as a steam fitter. As a journeyman steam fitter, he must be thoroughly skilled with his tools, understand general pipe fitting, be able to calculate and cut lengths of pipe, be able to install either vertical or horizontal steam lines and understand thermostat heat control.

The ambitious steam fitter may become a foreman and then, in addition to his knowledge of the trade, he must have a knowledge of men and an ability to control them and lay out their work. The steam fitter may own his business, if he proves capable, or he may work with a plumber or be in partnership with him. In small communities, the plumber may also do the steam fitting.

The man who takes up plumbing should have at least a common-school education. If he wishes to advance and become either a journeyman plumber or run his own business, he should have a technical or trade school training. In every large city, and in many of our smaller ones, trade schools are being established to give a preliminary knowledge of the mechanical trades both as to theory and practice. Such schools do not take the place of apprentice work, even though the training is practical, but they do give the theory of the subject along with the practice, and eliminate one or two apprentice years.

The young apprentice can, if unable to attend a trade school, secure instruction in evening technical schools or, if he is not so situated as to be able to attend either, he may obtain a knowledge of the theory of his trade through correspondence courses and books.

Of course, with such work as the technical or trade school may offer on the subject of plumbing itself, the man who desires to advance and assume leadership in his occupation must have a good command of the English language, the ability to interpret plans and drawings in which mechanical and scientific thought find their expression, and a knowledge of physics, chemistry and mathematics. He must understand the principles of hygiene and sanitation and know how to apply them. The expense of the training for the plumber's trade is very low, for the trade and technical schools, as well as the night schools, are usually a part of the educational system of the community and therefore furnish free tuition. Further information as to such schools in the community can be furnished by the local or state Board of Education.

The wage of a journeyman plumber varies from $35 to $50 a week and the average is about $44. The apprentice or helper gets about $25 a week. The man who runs his own business, and does some merchandising along with it, is able to earn a larger amount. A good plumber should earn not less than $2,000 to $3,000 a year and, if he has a merchandising business or employs several men to work with him, he may make from $3,000 to a possible $6,000 a year. The plumbing trade provides steady employment at good wages and with good hours, but the man who does not loaf on his job but puts all his ability and enthusiasm into his work is the one who earns the best income. The small town offers decided advantages on account of the growing appreciation of modern plumbing facilities, while the large cities, where constant building and remodeling take place, offer a practically unlimited field for the plumber and steam fitter.

The young man who wants to be either a plumber or a steam fitter must be strong physically. He must be intelligent, industrious and persevering, and possess tact and determination, or he will never be able to be more than a fair workman. A surly man antagonizes whomever he works for, so a courteous and obliging disposition is as necessary to the man who would become an efficient plumber, as his ability to manipulate the tools properly. His work is often with housewives and persons who do not understand plumbing, so he must, even on the smallest job, combine good temper with his skill. Personality counts in the plumbing business as in every other line of work, and a pleasing personality will prove as valuable to the plumber as his knowledge of the trade.

The trade of the plumber is one that offers a good future, for all over the country more and more plumbing is being used. Farm houses, which formerly depended upon pumps for their water supply, now are being remodeled so as to include sanitary plumbing; or, as new houses are being built, the bathrooms, sinks in the kitchens and other conveniences are installed along with the furnaces. The increasing number of bathrooms that are being installed in these farm houses alone shows the possibilities that lie ahead of the ambitious plumber. The work on sanitation, which is being developed by state and national boards of health, as well as by individual effort, is also bringing work to the plumber.

The work is hard and the plumber is often called upon at most inconvenient times, especially in cold weather. The work is also dirty, though not unhealthy. But the man who is fond of tools and is willing to work hard, will find that there is a steady demand for trained plumbers at good wages and that such a workman has exceptional opportunities to go into business for himself. The plumber who enjoys his work and becomes a sanitary expert in his community and helps to keep that community healthy makes a vital contribution to the welfare of his fellow men.


COSGROVE, J. J.: "Principles and Practice of Plumbing," Standard Sanitary Manufacturing Co., Pittsburgh, Pa., 1914.

DIBBLE, S. E.: "Elements of Plumbing," McGraw-Hill Book Co., Inc., New York, 1918.

PUTNAM, J. PICKERING: "Plumbing and Household Sanitation," Double-day, Page & Co., New York, 1911.

STARBUCK:, ROBERT MACY: "Modern Plumbing Illustrated," The Norman W. Henley Publishing Co., New York, 1907.

"Questions and Answers on Practice and Theory of Sanitary Plumbing," R. M. Starbuck and Sons, Hartford, Conn., 1919.


Gas and Steam Fitters' Official Journal, Official Journal of United Association of Plumbers, Gas Fitters' and Steam Fitters' Helpers, Chicago. Merchant Plumber and Fitter, Merchant Plumber and Fitter Publishing Co., New York.

Modern Sanitation, Standard Sanitary Mfg. Co., Pittsburgh, Pa. Plumbers' Trade Journal, and Steam and Hot Water Fitters' Review, Plumbers' Trade Journal Publishing Co., New York.

Plumbing and Heating Magazine, Commerce Publishing Co., Philadelphia.

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