A pioneer of the water industry

In 1850, there wasn't much interest in a water company in Louisville, Ky. People didn't understand why they should pay for water if they received it for free from wells or pumps.

However, views changed when Louisville's polluted groundwater caused many to die from typhoid and cholera. In 1854, the Kentucky legislature granted a charter and incorporated Louisville Water Co. Water was first pumped in October 1860.

One of the primary focuses at Louisville Water Co. has been research, which has helped eliminate typhoid and cholera from drinking water and produced filtration systems used at water plants throughout the U.S. The company currently operates an Environmental Protection Agency-certified lab and conducts 300 tests on drinking water every day.

One former engineer at Louisville Water Co., George Warren Fuller, played an important role in the water industry.

Making a difference

George Warren Fuller was born in Franklin, Mass., in 1868. He graduated from high school at the head of his class and graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1890. He studied at the University of Berlin for about a year in the private office of C. Piefke, engineer of Berlin Water Works.

He returned to Massachusetts and worked for the State Board of Health, heading the Lawrence Experiment Station, which at the time was the leader in research on the purification of water supplies and treatment of sewage. He worked on developing methods for treating the increasing presence of wastewater.

Because of his work at Lawrence Experiment Station, he was chosen to head filtration experiments at Louisville Water Co. in 1895, studying filtration processes that could help purify waters such as the Ohio River. The report of his studies explained the ability of coagulation and rapid sand filtration to handle variable waters, and a new era of water purification began.

While in Louisville, Fuller also supervised various men who eventually played an important role in sanitation, including Joseph W. Ellms, George A. Soper and George A. Johnson, who was responsible for the first U.S. installations for water chlorination.

Fuller left Louisville and conducted similar filtration experiments in Cincinnati before establishing a consulting engineering firm in New York in 1899. He advised more than 150 cities, commissions and corporations regarding major water supply and sewerage improvements during his 34 years of practice, and he often had complete control over all engineering work for the facilities.


Fuller constantly was involved in the water industry. He was a member of a central committee in Washington, D.C., involved with sanitation of army corps during World War I; consulting engineer to the U.S. Public Health Services and the Construction Division of the U.S. Army; and chairman of a board in 1924 that advised the Sanitary District of Chicago regarding its sewage disposal, leading to the reversal of the Chicago River.

Fuller also was involved in the standardization of practices. His suggestion to the American Public Health Association in 1894 for standardization of bacteriological testing resulted in an 1897 report that evolved into the current Standard Methods text. He served as president of the American Water Works Association (AWWA) and was responsible for the publication of the Manual of Water Works Practice in 1925. He was involved in various other organizations, including being president of the American Public Health Association and vice president of the American Society of Civil Engineers.

A tribute

After Fuller's death in 1934, Abel Wolman, editor of Municipal Sanitation, a magazine for which Fuller had chaired the editorial advisory board, wrote, "Municipal Sanitation records this last tribute to one of the important figures who have made this country safe to live in. His name will be among the first in public health achievements of this century."

AWWA now presents the George Warren Fuller Award to members for distinguished service in the water supply field and "in commemoration of the sound engineering skill, brilliant diplomatic talent and constructive leadership talent" that characterized Fuller's life.

This Web exclusive information is a supplement to A clean slate.