A valve is a simple device that is used in order to control the flow of liquids by opening and closing to different degrees and is often operated by turning a simple handle. While this device might seem deceptively simple however, it’s worth noting that valves allow for many of the things that we take for granted today and that make modern living possible. It’s thanks to valves that we have water pressure at all, and this in return means that we need valves to enjoy tap water and even central heating. Of course valves don’t just control our water either – they also control the flow of gas which means that they’re also necessary for gas energy and a range of other processes. They really rather indispensable.
As such then the valve has a lot of responsibility for the world that we live in today, and has allowed for many other developments that would ultimately shape history and culture. But where did it come from? Here we will look at the history of this little wonder.
While you might not think it, valves in some form or other have been around pretty much since historic times. Not in the sense that we’re familiar with of course, but in terms of regulating waterflow this is something that we were doing with twigs, stones and branches long before we invented iron pipes.
Of course though it’s a bit of a technicality to claim that this represents the invention of the valve, and really the valve in the sense that we traditionally think of it was developed a little later – of course by the Romans who also brought us such wonders as roads and central heating (the latter being reliant on valves to exist in the first place).
Back in Roman times when valves were first introduced they were made in bronze and were of the ‘plug’ or ‘stockport’ type – meaning that a blockage would simply be pushed in or pulled out to close or open the space in the pipe. Back then this was used to enable the transportation of water from rivers and fountains to villages at long distances thereby saving money on aquaducts. The material was rich in lead which today we try to avoid, but it was also anticorrosive and highly ductile.
After the many technological innovations of the Romans, things settled down for a while during the Middle Ages which saw considerably fewer developments. It wasn’t until the renaissance period (potentially brought about by the coffee house culture and the lack of reliance on alcohol to prevent disease in water) that progress began again and canal, irrigation systems and hydraulic constructions begun being employed. Leonardo DaVinci actually left behind some interesting examples and ideas for valves in his sketches.
Following this period of course was the industrial revolution and in 1705 one Thomas Newcomen invented the world’s very first steam powered machine. Of course it was necessary here for valves to be used in order to keep the steam at high pressures, and around the same time valves went into mass production and saw many subsequent innovations leading to the world we live in today.
Roger Smith is an expert structural engineer who is currently working for GWC Valve International that has completed many residential and commercial projects.