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History of the Bubbler

If you are not from Wisconsin or have never traveled to Wisconsin chances are you have never heard of and have no idea what a bubbler is. You may recognize some of the other names like “The Gurgler”, “The Gusher”, or the most famous name used today, a water or drinking fountain.

Yes, a bubbler is the proper name for a drinking fountain. Designed and created in a small town in Wisconsin, the bubbler is a popular drinking fountain in which we all get water. Bubblers can be found in hospitals, public parks, schools, zoos, and just about any public place.

What is a Bubbler?

A bubbler is a drinking fountain, originally created with a ball in the nozzle of the fountain that literally caused the water to bubble up from the faucet. Traditionally the bubbler was created to project water an inch into the air vertically above the ball, in a bubbling stream like fashion.

However, many people found this to be unsanitary and a new design was created to not only keep the water cleaner but to make it easier to drink from as well. Today the water from drinking fountains now stream in an arc fashion making it easier to drink from.

Today you can find many forms of bubblers around the world, however the majority of the population will not refer to them as bubblers, but rather drinking fountains, or worse in my opinion, the dreaded water fountain.

History of the Bubbler

The bubbler was first created in 1888 in Kohler, Wisconsin by a small waterworks company that was well known for their water faucet productions. This company was the leading producers of faucets at the time, and is still a major company in Wisconsin today. Kohler patented the product and promoted it’s trademark name (bubbler).

As other waterworks companies created the product they were unable to use the original name of bubbler and used imitation names like “the gurgler” and “the gusher”, however these names did not catch on.

Although these names did not stick the products saturated the market and eventually the bubbler became just another name as well. However it is still used in Wisconsin, and Australia, as well as parts of Oregon, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts.

A Benson Bubbler in Portland, Oregon

A Benson Bubbler in Portland, Oregon

Can I Still Find The Traditional Bubbler?

Yes you can! There are a few original bubblers still located around the Wisconsin state capital in Madison. You can also find original bubblers in Portland, Oregon. Back in the early 1900s Simone Benson brought over the traditional bubblers for his lumberman in Portland, Oregon so they could have access to fresh water. These bubblers were commonly known as Benson's bubblers, yet today people on the West Coast still call them drinking fountains.

Bubbler vs Water Fountain

A bubbler or drinking fountain is a fountain in which the water bubbles or fountains in an arch form in order for people to have the ability to drink water. You can find small bubblers in public parks, trails, zoos, schools, etc.

A water fountain is a large fountain that shoots water straight up into the air or at higher arch forms and can be found in the middle of parks, zoos, or in smaller sizes inside the home or in someone’s backyard.

A water fountain is a decoration in which we use to decorate our outside common places. Most larger size water fountains are made of stone or cement, where as bubblers or drinking fountains are made of stainless steal or polished chrome.

Despite the obvious size difference in a bubbler and a water fountain, today the words bubbler, water fountain, and drinking fountain are all used interchangeable. No matter where you are from, or what you call the device from which you get a drink of water the patented or trademark name of most are called Bubbler.

Is the Bubbler Origin a Myth?

I wrote this article many years ago, and since it's been published several other articles have come out claiming all of the above being a myth. In fact they go as far as naming two other men and their companies (Halsey Willard Taylor and Luther Haws) for creating the first drinking fountains in the 1900's.

I don't know much about where the true first water fountain was made, but I like to think that at some point in time a Wisconsin company or employee did indeed coin the term.

If you ask me it makes sense. I've lived in Wisconsin my whole life, but I grew up and have spent most of my time in central and southern Wisconsin. Bubbler was the only term used, however if you travel into northern or even western Wisconsin the term is not used as heavily. Don't get me wrong it is still used, however it is not uncommon to find people in these parts that do not use the term bubbler.

So why does the word bubbler exist in Wisconsin? I believe it is because the drinking fountains did in fact bubble. There were many fountains in Milwaukee, Monroe, and Madison that were pedestal style with a bowl that had three balls which made the water bubble rather than flow in an arc. These fountains bubbled water 24/7 hence the term bubbler. These types of drinking fountains can still be found in parts of Wisconsin today. I believe that us Wisconsinites have turned the trademarked name into a general name for any fountain of water that is for drinking whether it be a Bubbler brand fountain or not.

The truths behind the word bubbler may never be completely known, however we can still be proud of our Wisconsin heritage and the bubbler.

You can find more on the debunking by the Sheboygan Press.

© 2012 Cholee Clay


Pat on November 20, 2019:

I'm from Rhode Island and have only heard it called a bubbler.

poetryman6969 on September 01, 2014:

Interesting choice for a hub.

Cholee Clay (author) from Wisconsin on May 18, 2012:

cardelean-Thanks for stopping by and commenting. This is one of my favorite pieces of Wisconsin artifact history:)

cardelean from Michigan on May 18, 2012:

What an interesting piece of history. So glad that you shared your knowledge with us, I love learning new things!

Cholee Clay (author) from Wisconsin on May 06, 2012:

Thanks Teresa! I always get confused looks when I ask for a bubbler and people think I'm weird when actually that was the brand name for the fountain. It's amazing how things change over time. Thanks for commenting, voting, and sharing!

Teresa Coppens from Ontario, Canada on May 06, 2012:

Fantastic hub on such a common place artefact. I see them still in most schools I teach in although they are slowly being replaced by 'fountains' designed to refill water bottles. I learned a lot - I never knew my childhood source of water was really a 'bubbler' or that it was first invented in Wisconsin! Voted up and shared.

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