The American Sanitary Plumbing Museum in Worcester, Mass.,
will never be listed among the world's great museums, but to
people who are interested in pipes and fixtures, there's no
place like it. The collection got its start when Charles
Manoog, the founder of a wholesale plumbing supply company,
retired in 1979 and handed the business over to his son, Russ.
At about the same time, someone gave the older Manoog a
300-year-old section of wooden water main that had been dug up
during excavation work at Boston's Faneuil Hall.
That chance event, coupled with a lifelong passion for
plumbing and a newfound abundance of free time, set Manoog to
collecting plumbing fixtures and tools of all kinds, including
bathtubs, water heaters, and an eye-opening variety of toilets.
(One visitor favorite is a 19th-century earth closet —
a Rube Goldberg-like indoor device that housed an elaborate
mechanism designed to sift a thin layer of soil over waste by
way of a flush.) The collection moved into its own
3,000-square-foot building in 1988, a year before Charles
Everything old is new again. Could this
19th-century copper pump and sink become the model for next
year's high-end designer fixture?
"We didn't have PEX when I was a boy,
Sonny." These ingenious offset couplings allowed a plumber to
sneak one run of threaded pipe past another with minimal fuss.
They're no longer made, so today's plumbers have to approximate
the same solution with an awkward series of street elbows or
elbows and close nipples.
This nightmarish-looking series of lead
drain lines leading to a single cylindrical drum trap was once
standard equipment. Today's plumbers still encounter this sort
of thing in old houses, often to their sorrow: The offset lines
running to and from the drum trap won't allow a plumber's snake
to pass through, as a more modern P- or S-trap will. A too
forceful attempt to clear the drain may cause the snake to
punch right through the soft lead wall of the trap.
There's no direct connection between the nonprofit foundation
that funds the museum and the still-thriving family business,
although the two share a parking lot. But the indirect
connection is strong: When Russ Manoog retired in 2000 and
passed the company along to his own son, he took on the job of
museum trustee. Russ's wife, Bettejane — known to all
as B.J. — is the museum's administrative director and
chief tour guide.
According to B.J., about 400 visitors pass through the museum
annually. Lawyers sometimes use the museum's document
collection to research cases, and industrial designers looking
for ideas make sketches of old fixtures and hardware. Classes
of young apprentices from area training programs visit
regularly, and Manoog often hears older retired plumbers
exclaim at the sight of a forgotten piece of the
The American Sanitary Plumbing Museum is
located at 39 Piedmont St. in Worcester, Mass. Hours are from
10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays; admission is free.
For directions and information, call 508/754-9453.