Water! It is one item that every living thing needs almost daily. We can go many days without food, but we cannot go long without water. For close to a century, a primary means for providing the public with the water they need has been the drinking fountain and the water cooler.

The drinking fountain, as we know it, was developed in the early 1900s by Halsey Taylor and Haws. These two companies, founded by Halsey Willard Taylor and Luther Haws respectively, pioneered a major change in how water was dispensed in public places. In doing so, they also helped reduce the instance of waterborne diseases among the general population. In fact, Halsey W. Taylor's dedication to providing a safe and sanitary drink to the public was prompted by his father's death from typhoid fever caused by a contaminated water supply.

For years, drinking fountains provided water in public buildings, schools and factories. However, the desire for colder drinking water brought about the introduction of chilled drinking fountains. These predecessors to the water cooler featured cooling that was generated by a 20-pound block of ice.

The first refrigerated water coolers were cumbersome floor standing units that used beltdriven ammonia compressors to chill the water. They were so heavy, they had to be moved by several men or with a forklift! As testimony to the quality found throughout our industry, some of these units are still in operation today.

As we progressed into the 1950s, the ability to offer students a cold, refreshing drink of water throughout the school day became an industry priority. This led to the design and development of wall-mounted water coolers more suitable to school environments.

Over the years, Halsey Taylor developed many variations of the wall-mounted unit, including space-saving recessed models that allow for uninterrupted corridors and hallways, making them ideal for schools, hospitals and other buildings with high-traffic.

The next major step in the water cooler evolution process occurred in the 1960s. That is when the industry began to recognize there were physically challenged people confined to wheelchairs who had difficulty drinking from our fountains and coolers. In response, the industry came out with the more easily accessible wheelchair water cooler.

Government regulations were introduced in the 1980s that specifically defined the needs of the handicapped. Based on these regulations, the Barrier-Free water cooler evolved and soon became the number one seller in the industry. During this same time period, there was a move underway to eliminate lead-bearing components from potable water supply systems. The first change was in solders and then other components soon followed, spurred on by the Safe Drinking Water Act. The need to eliminate CFC refrigerants from the coolers soon followed, and the industry quickly moved to HFC-134a refrigerant to replace the CFCs.

The 1980s also saw an enhanced focus on the design and appearance of water coolers and drinking fountains. As fountains and coolers became more accessible and more practical than ever before, they also became more attractive. Oval shapes, rounded corners and contemporary finishes that accented or blended in with a building's decor became fashionable and remain so today. In addition to looking for quality and performance when specifying or selecting a water cooler, engineers, architects, building owners and facilities managers were also seeking units that looked good.

The 1990s brought about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which more comprehensively defined the rights and needs of the handicapped for access to many types of facilities. While this resulted in some dimensional and slight design changes to water coolers and drinking fountains in order to make them even more accessible to physically challenged individuals, it also recognized the needs of able bodied people and those with bending difficulties. ADA declared that public facilities needed to provide both wheelchair accessible and standard height units. This resulted in the birth of the increasingly popular bi-level unit.

Where is the drinking fountain and water cooler industry headed next? There continues to be, and there will no doubt always be, a concern for the purity of water. Most recently, this has prompted some manufacturers, including Halsey Taylor, to secure full ANSI/NSF 61 certification for all of their water coolers and drinking fountains. ANSI/NSF 61, Section 9 is a standard that measures the contribution of lead and many other harmful contaminants by drinking water components. Two testing bodies, Underwriter's Laboratories, Inc. and NSF International, have been accredited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) to certify NSF Standard 61, Section 9 compliance.

The Safe Drinking Water Act and State Legislation makes professional plumbing contractors, engineers, architects and building owners, as well as maintenance and facilities managers, responsible for the quality of water dispensed from the products they specify or install. Because of this, offering water coolers and drinking fountains that meet all the requirements of ANSI/NSF 61 has become very important.

In addition to achieving this classification for lead, Halsey Taylor is one of the manufacturers providing water coolers and drinking fountains that meet the stringent requirements of this standard for organic contaminants, regulated metals (including antimony, arsenic, barium, cadmium, chromium, copper, lead, mercury, nickel, selenium, silver, thallium, tin and zinc), radionuclides, RVCM (residual vinyl chloride monomer) and solvent levels. When you consider that the majority of states are now looking to the full ANSI/NSF 61 certification, it is important for those in our industry to be able to offer products that meet this distinct classification.

While time and innovation can often lead to obsolescence, those in our industry can take comfort in the fact that there will always be a need for clean drinking water. Consequently, the prime directive for the water cooler industry is, and will always be, to provide the best products possible for dispensing clean water to the public.