To design, engineer, build, and perfect a system that moves enormous amounts of water, it is necessary to have a high degree of scientific, engineering, and project management expertise.
A particularly unusual property of water systems is that new parts work alongside old parts rather than replace them. This is the case for many reasons, but the primary one, at least in the case of the Boston water system, is that the new parts were built to serve growing demand, adding their capabilities to already existing ones.
Even when old parts of the system went out of use, they were left in place for financial and precautionary reasons. On the financial side, there would have been little benefit and yet a non-trivial cost in digging up and removing the Sudbury aqueduct. On the precautionary side, many in Boston were glad the Sudbury aqueduct was still in place in May 2010, when it was pressed into emergency service during a major water main break.
One consequence of incremental growth is that Boston's current water system includes technologies that embody engineering practices and theories that span more than a century. The rapid evolution of steam and water pump technologies is on display in the steam-driven water pumps in the Waterworks Museum. The museum tells engineering stories that are as much about what we can see today as they are about understanding the past.
Why was this engineering construction needed? What problems did it intend to solve? Who designed it? What were the considerations of the design? Who built it? Why was it built the way it was? Did it solve the problem? And, recalling that the system grew by adding new parts rather than replacing them, what constraints did it place on later engineering projects?
Story: Worthington-Snow Engine
Story: Leavitt-Reidler Engine
Story: Allis Engine
Pictures: Engineering Gallery