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“[...] The modern era’s first free public water fountain was unveiled in London in 1859. Thousands gathered to watch officials turn on the tap. At its peak, about 7,000 people used the fountain each day. At that time, the rich were buying water brought in from the country. The poor were drinking water bottled from the sewage-infested Thames. Water-borne diseases such as cholera and typhoid were rampant.
The fountain changed all that by making clean water accessible for free. By 1879, London had 800 fountains. American cities followed suit. In 1859, New York debuted a fountain at City Hall Park. Detroit, Philadelphia and San Francisco soon built their own. By 1920, most municipalities were providing free, chlorinated water. The public health benefits were obvious. Half of the decline in urban deaths between 1900 and 1940 can be attributed to improvements in water quality, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research.’
Municipal chlorinated water was considered yet another modern evolution,’ says Francis H. Chapelle, a hydrologist and the author of Wellsprings: A Natural History of Bottled Spring Waters. ‘It basically put bottled water out of business.’ By 1930, Chapelle says, bottled water had become ‘low class,’ used only in offices and factories that couldn’t afford plumbing.
Attitudes began to shift in the 1970s, when Europe’s Perrier set its sights on the American market. In 1977, the company spent $5 million on an advertising campaign in New York, selling itself as a chic, upscale product. Yuppies lapped it up. ‘It was a lifestyle-defining product,’ Chapelle says. By 1982, U.S. bottled-water consumption had doubled to 3.4 gallons per person per year.
Seeing an opportunity, U.S. beverage producers followed Perrier’s lead. In 1994, Pepsi launched Aquafina. Coca-Cola joined the club with Dasani in 1999. Homegrown brands, though, couldn’t boast glamorous European roots. So instead, they made Americans afraid of the tap. One ad from Royal Spring Water claimed that 'tap water is poison.' Another, from Calistoga Mountain Spring Water, asked: 'How can you be sure your water is safe? . . . Unfortunately, you can’t.' Fiji Water infuriated Ohio with the tagline 'The label says Fiji because it’s not bottled in Cleveland.'
The insinuation, of course, was that there was something wrong with local water. […]”
— Kendra Pierre-Louis, The Washington Post