Some people call drinking water dispensers ‘bubblers’ and don’t know them by any other name. So why is it called a bubbler in Wisconsin and not a drinking fountain?  The answers found online often say that bubbler is the proper name that Kohler gave a new invention that dispensed water. In these versions of the story, the name ‘Bubbler’ became a trademarked eponym, similar to Kleenex or Band-Aid. 

Turns out, this common story might not be the whole truth, though.

Harlan Hucklebee, purportedly Kohler Water Works employee, is the person who has historically been said to have created the drinking fountain. Not only did he not create the bubbler, but he also might not have even been real. If not Harlan, then who? Historians do know the inventors are Luther Haws of Berkeley, CA and Warren, OH native Halsey Taylor (whose ‘Double Bubbler’ system helped reduce the spread of illness). Neither man was associated with Kohler.

According to the Sheboygan Press and other news outlets, Kohler was not even a company when Haws and Taylor invented the drinking fountain. Zero patents can be found that says Kohler created the bubbler.

In fact, the history of the bubbler dates back more than 14 centuries!

Around 550 AD in Nepal water spouts called dhunge dharas were constructed. The water flowed through them from underground sources. A more modern spout was created around 1850 when the first drinking fountain was built on Holborn Hill in London. This drinking fountain was so popular that 85 more were built near public houses and churches. In the United States, temperance groups built drinking fountains during the Civil War to discourage the use of alcohol by making water more common (and cheaper!) than alcohol. The combination of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Movement and animal welfare made drinking fountains quite popular. (Which is quite funny around these parts of the country…)

OK – so why do people in Wisconsin and Massachusetts call drinking fountains bubblers? It seems that although everyone is convinced, they know the answer it isn’t clear as water.

One theory though is that up until the late 1800s, Wisconsin’s schools used to be one room. If it was a fancy school the room would include a Redwing cooler. (Learn more about the history of the cooler from last month’s blog.) When getting water out from the spigot air bubbles rushed to the top of the cooler. The students called the cooler’s spigot ‘The Bubbler’– the tool that created bubbles.

The water cooler was an extremely coveted piece of technology at the time. Everyone ‘bubbled’ over with excitement to see freshwater in the cooler every morning and students would run into the school to drink from the new invention.

Bubbler. Drinking fountain. Water fountain. Call it whatever you want. Just continue to enjoy the great tasting water from Wisconsin’s own natural bubbler-