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Mommy, Daddy, Where Do Valves Come From?

Most people have had that moment where they are asked how valves came to be. It can be a stressful, awkward conversation; but I am here today to tell you it doesn’t have to be.

In this article, we will equip you with a few pointers that can guide you as you think about and explain the origin of valves.


Contrary to what you might think, valves are not a modern invention. Some version of the valve has been around for as far back as 2,000 years ago.

In ancient times, the Greeks, Egyptians, and others used branches, stones, and tree trunks to control the passage of water for the purpose of irrigation and public use.

Eventually, the Romans got involved in the “valve” game as they developed their elaborate canal systems. They used aqueducts to transfer water, oftentimes from great distances, from rivers and streams to their villages.

The types of valves they would use were stop cock or plug made out of bronze. These valves consisted of a body, a holed plug, a bottom, and a lengthy levy to turn the plug.

The Romans also utilized a diaphragm valve that was made out of leather. This valve was manually closed over a weir to manage the flow and temperature of bath water in the houses.

During the Renaissance, more sophisticated valves were introduced as there was an uptick in the construction of irrigation systems, canals, and other such structures. You can even see sketches of the valves they used in some of Leonardo Da Vinci’s drawings.

Skip a century or two to the early 1700’s and you have Thomas Newcomen inventing the first steam machine for pumping water. This contraption necessitated valves to regulate the steam at high pressures.

During the Industrial Revolution, the development of the valve continued to pick up steam as more needs demanded more innovations.

In 1840, James Robinson obtained the first valve patent in the United States for his stop cock (what we would refer to today as gate) valve. An interesting name indeed.

A hand wheel operated gate valve

James Watt introduced the butterfly valve in the steam engine and in 1901 the first Mercedes car utilized a butterfly valve for the fuel intake connected to the accelerator.

You may not think valves are potent weapons, but they played a huge role in World War II. Valves were used in providing flow control for the 100 octane fuel. They were also used in the piping for creating Toluene for explosives and Butadiene for synthetic rubber.

Toluene was the most crucial ingredient for the making of TNT, which was quite important at the time.

Beyond these uses, valves were crucial for the planes and boats for fuel and water management.

Though valves play a behind-the-scenes role, they have been used in numerous, essential applications throughout history. Water and sewage processing, food manufacturing, brewing, mining, oil processing, chemical manufacturing, plumbing; the list goes on and on.

It is fascinating to look back and see how they have been developed to meet the needs of different societies throughout history.

If the future of the valve is anything like its past, there will be many game-changing developments that you are going to want to stay tuned for.