A Very Quick History of the Kitchen Sink
Everything has its own story – including the humble kitchen sink. This household item, which is given little practical thought, is present in every single home – and in today’s society, we would be lost without it.
What is a sink? It is a plumbing fixture in the shape of a bowl, with a tap or faucet to fill it with water, and a drain to dispose of said water. The drain can usually be plugged, and the sink is used for hand washing, dishwashing, or laundering.
Prior to modern plumbing, water had to be manually collected and carried from a nearby stream, pond, or well. Water for drinking, cooking, and washing was fetched numerous times every day. The first “sinks” were simply buckets or dishpans of water which then had to be carried outside for tipping the water away. Dirty dishes and pans were scrubbed with ashes or sand, and then washed with water and lye soap in a basin which was placed on a bench or kitchen table. The waste dishwater was then tipped onto the vegetable garden or fed to farm animals.
The first thing we would recognize as a sink was a shallow wood, metal or stone trough which was on legs and set into a window sill or atop a cabinet. This “dry sink” evolved between 1820 and 1900, and was eventually lined with lead or zinc. More prosperous people could upgrade to a “wet sink” which had a wood or iron pump which accessed water. This water was still manually emptied. Some households had cisterns which collected rainwater for indoor use, and this was transported to the sink by a pump.
In 1902, steel, graniteware, and enamel sinks were advertised to replace old wood or stone, zinc or lead-lined sinks. These were plumbed in, had drainpipes, and had to be installed by professionals. By the 1930s, an alloy of copper and nickel was used as it was rust-proof, easier to clean, and resulted in less damage to crockery. It was also resistant to corrosion, unlike its enamel predecessor. Porcelain was also used. Sinks were designed to be smaller and more stylish.
Sink materials range today from ceramic to copper; stainless steel and glass to granite. Stainless steel kitchen sinks are most common today as they represent a great compromise between durability, serviceability, and cost effectiveness.
Incidentally, have you ever wondered where the saying, “everything but the kitchen sink” came from? We don’t exactly know – its first documented use was in 1918. However, according to popular urban myth, the phrase was coined for widespread use in the 1940’s. During the Second World War, the war effort called on people to donate everything possible for its use. In the United States, for example, all of the metal was used for the US arsenal. The only objects not required were porcelain kitchen sinks.