Test your knowledge with a quiz
- As Philadelphia grew, so did the need to secure clean sources of water. When it opened in 1815, the Fairmount Water Works was celebrated as an example of American ingenuity, harnessing the power of nature to create and support a modern, healthy, beautiful city.
- Built in a Neoclassical style to evoke the grandeur and moral well-being associated with classical antiquity, the Fairmount Water Works was the most popular tourist destination in America until the 1840s. Prints and decorative objects featuring the Water Works were manufactured and circulated internationally, making it an iconic image widely associated with the early American republic.
- Along with the Water Works, the Schuylkill canal made the river more navigable through a series of dams and locks. This was part of a series of canals, constructed in the early 19th century, that enabled trade and expansion within the interior of the United States.
Learn more about the history of Philadelphia
Learn how the construction of canals enabled American progress
Take the self-guided tour of the Fairmount Water Works
Read and watch a short video on the history of the Fairmount Water Works
Read an 1820 report by the Watering Committee
View photos and drawings of the Fairmount Water Works at the Library of Congress Historic American Buildings Survey
View some decorative arts objects featuring the Fairmount Water Works
Pitcher with Dam and Water Works, Philadelphia
View a print copy of Birch’s painting
Short biography of Thomas Birch
More to think about
The video states that the Water Works were the number one tourist destination in the United States until supplanted by Niagara Falls. Are there tourist destinations in your area that are linked to technology? How would you compare them to the Water Works in function and appearance?