The Effect of the Scottish Enlightenment on Water Filter Technology
It is no coincidence that the first municipal water treatment plant was designed and installed in Scotland. Many of the greatest philosophers and scientists of the eighteenth century hailed from Scotland. Historians typically term the period between 1740 and 1800 the Scottish Enlightenment because of the outpouring of scientific thought from Scotland.
After the Act of Union of 1707, which joined Scotland, Ireland,
Wales, and England under the inclusive union of Great Britain,
Scotland, traditionally known as one of the most backward nations
in Europe, joined in the general fervor and scientific discovery
of the Enlightenment (Buchan, 2003). In this period, David
Hume, the Scottish philosopher and historian, outlined the
tenets of the modern-day scientific method, and Adam
Smith, the famous British economist, published his revolutionary
economic theory that is the foundation of modern-day, free-trade
A lesser known scientist and engineer, destined only to make
the chronicles of water filtration history, also came from this
era of Scottish Enlightenment. Robert
Thom, advancing upon the technology of small-scale, slow
sand filters, designed the first, citywide, water filtration
plant. His plant was able to provide filtered, pathogen-free
water to the entire city of Paisley, Scotland.
Thoms success in designing a municipal water treatment plant,
added to the scientific evidence that had proven decreases in
waterborne diseases as a result of filtered water, led to the
passage of the Metropolis
Water Act of 1852 (Binnie, Kimber, & Smethurst, 2002). This
law, the first of its kind, required that all water supplied
to London be treated by slow sand filtration.
Thom provided a revolutionary water filtration design that would change the face of water treatment history.