Monday, April 12, 2010

Alexander Raffen - Chicago's First Plumber

Municipal records list a Scotsman named Alexander Raffen as the city's first plumber and he is the only plumber listed in the professional directory of 1850.

The annual report of the Illinois St. Andrew Society shows an Alexander W. Raffen who became a member in 1850 as having been from Cupar, Fifeshire, Scotland. In the list of Scottish people who lost their homes and businessses in the Great Fire of 1871, Alexander Raffen is listed as a pumber on Dearborn Street whose loss was in stock. No dollar amount of his loss is given.

There is ample evidence that some plumbing was in place in Chicago by 1815. "Excavations from the period indicate water mains had been installed with resourcefulness and ingenuity." The conduit of choice was hollowed wooden logs made of cedar. They were probably floated down from Michigan's Upper Peninsula. The logs were cut in 8 to 10 foot lengths, hand-drilled from each end and joined by an internal sleeve of the same wood. Tees appear to have been little more than holes drilled in the log with lead pipes to the buildings held in place by hollow corks.

A picture of Raffen hangs in the union hall of Local 130 on West Washington Street in Chicago.

1 comment:

  1. Were the "pipes" still made of wood during Raffen's time in Chicago? Can you imagine having to replace all that with a more long-lasting material. I'm guessing Raffen was a very busy man! Interesting.