Solve boredom by researching water fountains

Water fountains are a staple in parks and public spaces in cities across the United States. The Murdock company, founded in Cincinnati, has supplied many of the fountains for public works projects.

While it is easy to ignore the fixtures of everyday life, appreciation of the minute or mundane features of our world can be a helpful practice to find happiness in every moment. On a walk to Alms Park in Cincinnati, the droning of footsteps and my inability to remove my hands from my pockets for fear of frostbite led me to think about water fountains. Though it may seem a very disconnected thought, it was about the time of year where the temperature has warmed enough to turn the public pipes back on, and I was anticipating using the water fountain at the top of the hill.

It may be important to note that the name of water fountains change by the region, and while I use both interchangeably, I will use “water fountain” for simplicity’s sake.

This map, courtesy of Joshua Katz, shows the regional names for water fountains/drinking fountains. Some parts of the country are very decided on a name, but Cincinnati and much of the Midwest use the terms interchangeably.

When using many of the outdoor public water fountains in Cincinnati, it may be hard to ignore the phrase “MADE BY THE MURDOCK MFG. & SUPPLY CO. CINCINNATI, OH” embossed on the valve. Murdock is a manufacturing company that had been based out of Cincinnati for most of its history, although it moved its manufacturing to California just over a decade ago.

It may come as a surprise to most people that the Murdock company has had a very prolific history in the United States. The company produces many different designs, but their classic brass-bowled fountain can be seen in many cities. In fact, the Murdock company supplied many fountains for the public works projects under the New Deal. They can be found in public spaces at every level of government: National parks, state parks, municipal parks. They also can be found in many privately owned spaces; for example, my elementary school has a Murdock fountain near the playground.

Many other brands exist to fill the same purpose, Elkay, Halsey Taylor, etc., and many different designs exist. Park architects may opt for a design more compatible with other modern fixtures. A common theme among the new designs is simplicity, whether they are a rectangular prism or cylinder, there is not much excitement in the design.

In my opinion, the classic Murdock fountains have a charm that cannot be replaced given the purpose of blending in. There is nothing wrong with the new designs, but there is nothing special about them either. Some people may find it concerning, but many of the Murdock fountains have never been replaced since their original installations in the 20th century. There is a special “time-travel” effect to this knowledge. It is not a replica of another time, but a relic. They are a testament to the quality of American manufacturing, and act as a sort of monument to the ingenuity of Cincinnatians.

The design of these fountains is reminiscent of a baluster from the terrace of a palace, and the bowl and spout are almost a perfect, albeit simplistic miniature of much larger fountains. There is something to be said about the satisfying clunk of the foot pedal. It is much more tactile than a button, and the sound of water coming up the pipe from the foot pedal heightens the anticipation and excitement for the arrival of water at the top of the fountain.

Within this specific design of Murdock fountains, there is some variation. At Ault and Alms park on the east side of Cincinnati, there are fountains with the typical black painted stand with a brass bowl and an arching stream of water. However, in Hyde Park Square, the water fountain has a vertical spout, which makes it significantly harder to fill bottles, though it also provides an equally challenging drinking experience for people who prefer the stream to come from the left or the right as opposed to alienating one type of habit. There is also a popular design with a green polygonal base and a silver top that makes appearances throughout the city.

All of this applies only to one device, from one company, in one city. Some knowledge has to be attained by going out into the world, and some has to be attained by research, but if we don’t dismiss the exploration as trivial, we can free ourselves from boredom.

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