Benson bubblers keep on burbling

Drinking fountains used to be everywhere – in schools, libraries, stores, and even on the street – but they seem to have disappeared with the onset of public hygiene concerns and bottled water.

Not in downtown Portland, Oregon! Here, I was surprised to see public drinking fountains burbling on every other street corner. They weren’t just ordinary drinking fountains either (and maybe this is the key to their longevity), they were Benson Bubblers.

In 1912, Simon Benson, a local businessman and philanthropist, donated money to purchase 20 drinking fountains for Portland’s city streets. His original motivation for doing so has been lost to history, but these four-bowl fountains on decorative bronze pedestals that bubble up fresh water continuously (no pressing down a lever required) have become somewhat of an affectionate trademark for the city. Since Benson’s time, 60 more bubblers have been installed, with one- and three-bowl fountains added to the mix.

Considering all the studies that show city tap water to be on par or often cleaner than bottled water, is the return of the drinking fountain on the horizon? Who knows, but whatever happens, the Benson Bubblers could show the way to do it.

Oh, and to address those concerns about water usage and hygiene concerns: the Portland Water Bureau has retrofitted all the bubblers with water conservation devices, turns them off during the night, and maintains a cleaning schedule of the bowls twice a week.

To download a map showing the location of all the drinking fountains, visit Portland’s Benson Bubblers.