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One of the legacies of the old Trade Extension Bureau that remains alive today was its effort to standardize industry vocabulary. For instance, ever since it was formed in 1883, the industry’s largest trade association had been called the National Association of Master Plumbers. However, few people outside the industry understood the difference between a “master plumber” and a “journeyman plumber.”

The industry’s other major trade group, the Mechanical Contractors Association of America, dates back to 1889, when it was born as the National Association of Master Steam and Hot Water Fitters. Likewise, the “master fitter” identity was confused with “steamfitter,” the term applied to the journeymen who worked in the field.

As part of the trade extension merchandising movement, TEB searched for terms that would connote the fact that these firms sold plumbing and heating materials. In 1922, it formed a committee from all branches of the industry, which agreed upon the following trade designations.

Heating contractor was the term picked to replace the cumbersome “master steam and hot water fitter” terminology. TEB’s definition was “a person or firm engaged in the sale and installation of heating materials and appliances.”

Plumbing dealer was to be the description for master plumbers. TEB got swept up in a gust of rhetoric defining it as: “Any person, firm or corporation equipped to render plumbing services to the public, and who buys, stocks, sells at retail, installs and contracts to furnish and install, plumbing appliances, fixtures, accessories or other materials used in plumbing installations.”

The TEB committee also moved to change the term jobber, replacing it with wholesaler. It recommended that “jobber” be used instead to apply to a journeyman who does repair work.


The termcontractorwas readily endorsed by the heating side. In fact, MCAA’s forerunner went right out and changed its name in 1920 to the Heating and Piping Contractors National Association.

However, dealer never caught on with plumbing firms. Many felt that it emphasized sales too much over the mechanical side of the business. Some NAMP members picked up on the “contractor” term assigned to the heating side and began describing themselves as “plumbing contractors.” Others continued to refer to themselves as “master plumbers.”

It wasn’t until 1953 that the organization as a whole opted for the contractor terminology by changing its name to National Association of Plumbing Contractors. Yet the term master plumber is still in common use throughout the industry.

The term wholesaler ended up gaining widespread acceptance, though a few old-timers still can be heard describing themselves as “jobbers.” The industry at-large disregarded TEB’s recommendation to call repair journeymen “jobbers.”

Language continuously evolves. But not by committee decree.

Invention Of The Term "

Hydronics/hydronic heatingis a modern term coined in 1957 by the Institute of Boiler and Radiator Manufacturers (I=B=R), now The Hydronics institute. The effort began in 1956 when the group’s Marketing Research Committee decided to find a better name for what was then commonly known as thewet heat industry.

Almost everyone agreed that sounded too “clammy.” It was associated with ugly radiators and unpleasant sounding boilers. The marketing men wanted to create a modern image associated with pleasure, comfort, cleanliness and prestige.

Among terms considered by the committee were Fluid Heat, Sahara Heat, Hydrosol, Liquidmatic, Hydrosolar, Hydroradiant, Hydrothermics, Thermodynamics, True Perimeter, Liquid Heating, Hydro-Way, Aquaradiant, Coiled Comfort, and others. The most popular name submitted in a poll of I=B=R members was “Fluid Heat.”

In the end, a new entry, combining the familiar Latin root of hydro, pertaining to water, with the modem science of electronics gained favor with the committee. Hydronics sounded scientific and accurately described what was defined as “the science of heating and cooling with water.”

Before adopting the term, I=B=R sought the opinion of two Northwestern University English language authorities, including Dr. Bergen Evans, author of the Dictionary on American Usage and consultant to the then popular TV quiz show, “The $64,000 Question.” He commented that, “the word hydronics is not an unpleasant word,” and emphasized that, “a word is what you make it.”

After finding no legal obstacles to using the term, I=B=R formally approved it at its meeting of June 5, 1957. Then they began a campaign encouraging both trade and general interest publications to use the term “hydronics” at every opportunity, and also wrote to all major dictionary publishers asking them to include it. In 1960 the term was adopted by Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language, and I=B=R changed its name to The Hydronics Institute.