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Water – Who Bottled It First?

Think bottled water is a new invention? Think again. Humans have been carrying water in bottles for thousands of years. It was necessary before modern infrastructure existed. Yet, the first bottled water was not sold commercially until the 1600s. Much earlier than most of us would guess.

The oldest bottled water plant is the Holy Well in Malvern, England. Records show merchants have bottled and sold water here since 1622. The Holy Well has a natural spring. Visitors traveled long distances to bathe in and drink the spring water. They believed it had healing properties and bottled water was a luxury item. But, it became more popular as municipal water supplies were often contaminated – bottled water was a safer option to avoid cholera and other diseases.

close up of the logo on a Distillata vintage wooden

Bottled Water in The United States

America adopted the bottled water trend in 1767. Jackson Spa in Boston began bottling spring water and marketing it as a health tonic. This claim was not unfounded. At the time, there was no infrastructure to keep drinking water from contamination. By drinking spring water, Americans avoided toxic public water supplies. With no treatment facilities, it was often tainted by sewage. Soon, bottled water became a status symbol. It was served at fancy gatherings to impress attendees.

Bottled Water in Cleveland, Oh.

We have no definitive record of who first bottled water commercially in Cleveland, Ohio. An article in the Case Western Reserve Encyclopedia of Cleveland History suggests it may have been as early as 1820. At the time, our city had abundant fresh water from Lake Erie and a town pump in Public Square. Every household also had a well. However, droughts did occur. Case Western notes that Benhu Johnson took advantage of these situations by selling two barrels of water for twenty-five cents.

In the 1800s, public awareness of the importance of clean drinking water grew. The industry emerged as suppliers transitioned from barrels to water in glass bottles. New water processes, such as filtering and distillation, were developed. Water delivery by horse and buggy became a thriving business, and bottled water delivery in Cleveland, Oh. was born.

Distillata horse and buggy making distilled water delivery in Cleveland, Oh

From Spring to Bottle: How the First Bottled Water Changed the Way We Drink

Bottled water was once sold as a miracle cure or a status symbol. Today, it is commonplace in homes, businesses, and vending machines. We believe bottled water still has medicinal purposes, not as a cure for ailments but as a preventative measure. Modern science and common sense have proven that staying hydrated has a positive impact on our health. Here are some of the specific health benefits of drinking enough water:

  • Reduced risk of kidney stones
  • Improved bowel function
  • Reduced risk of heart disease and stroke
  • Improved mood and cognitive function
  • Boosted energy levels
  • Help with maintaining a healthy weight

The creation of purified water technologies made bottled water widely available. Although we have been producing distilled water in Cleveland, Oh., since 1897, Pepsi and Coke made bottled water ubiquitous. In the 1990s, they added purified water to their product line. They use municipal tap water filtered through reverse osmosis systems. Before this, bottled water companies operated locally, serving customers from nearby springs. Pepsi and Coke leveraged their existing purification equipment and international distribution channels.

the Distillata company vintage sign

Another significant change in the industry is the growth of sustainability. Sustainability is positively changing the bottled water industry. Brands that source water from renewable aquifers, recycle their materials, use local water supplies, and use efficient delivery routing are thriving. This is one area where local bottled water suppliers are beating national distributors.

Finally, bottled water has become the unsung hero in emergencies. Thankfully, we live in a country with decent access to clean water. But not when disaster strikes, or contamination occurs. We provide water hauling and emergency supplies when the world has limited access.

The water industry has made significant progress since the first water bottles were sold in Malvern, England, in the 17th century. Today, it is a global industry and remains a popular choice for many health-conscious consumers.

Watch this video to learn about Distillata, a family-owned and operated company in Cleveland, Oh. since 1897.

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