Illinois History


Municipal records, scant for the period before the Great Fire of 1871, list a Scotsman by the name of Alexander Raffen as the city's first plumber. He shows up for the first time in the city's professional directory of 1850, the only plumber to do so. James Wellington Norris's directory carried a listing for a shipwright, a wig maker, a pawnbroker, a water borer, and a candle maker back in 1844, but no plumber. One of the first contractors in Chicago was A. W. Raffen Plumbers and Gas Fitters.


Dean Thady, Plumbing Consultant
Illinois Department of Public Health
Division of Engineering & Sanitation

In 1881 the Illinois General Assembly enacted a law entitled, "An Act for the regulation and inspection of tenement and lodging houses, or other places of habitation." (Laws 1881, p. 155) Section 1 made it the duty of architects, builders of, or other persons interested in any projected tenement, lodging house, or other places of habitation, in any incorporated city of 50,000 inhabitants, to submit plans and specifications for any such building to the health commissioner of the city for his examination, rejection or approval "as to the proposed plans for the ventilation of rooms, light and air shafts, windows, ventilation of water closets drainage, and plumbing."

This Act was the first legislative expression in this state which gave recogni- tion to the necessity of regulatory controls over those engaged in plumbing work. It is interesting to note that the Act of 1881 was never repealed; in fact, with minor language changes, it was incorporated in the Revised Cities and Villages Act of 1941.

The 1881 Act did not prescribe the license qualification as a matter of state law compliance. Nor did it in any respect recognize distinctions in the character of plumbing services. Obviously, the necessity for state intervention had not at that time been demonstrated. In 1897, however, the General Assembly enacted the state's first Plumbing Regulatory Act, combining license requirements at the municipal level with delegated authority to municipalities to establish and enforce standards pertaining to installations, construction, materials and inspections.

Judged by present-day standards, the Act was skeletal in form and substance. In respect to post-license controls, it granted a discretionary power of revocation of the broadest type imaginable, including the power of one municipality to revoke a certificate issued by another municipality.

The Act of 1897 was repealed and replaced by an act of the General Assembly passed in 1917. The 1917 Act marked the entry of the State of Illinois into the licensing and supervision areas, though in a limited fashion. The basic provisions of the 1897 Act respecting municipal licensing by local boards of examiners were retained, and no state licensing features were provided. It was at once obvious from the 1917 Act that the system of exclusive local control over the licensing of plumbers and the provisions for the establishment of local plumbing codes had failed in their objectives of protecting the public health. A measure of state control was deemed necessary and the Act of 1917 reflected this need. The Act of 1917 was never tested in the courts. It was repealed and superseded by the 1935 Plumbers License Law.

In 1935 the Illinois legislature enacted The Illinois Plumbing License Law, and repealed the Act of 1917. (Laws of 1935) It was the first comprehensive licensing law in this state and constituted a radical departure from the 1897 and 1917 Acts. In its most important aspects it accomplished the following purposes:

(1) The removal of municipal licensing and regulatory power (except for the City of Chicago) and the vesting of such power in the State Department of Registration and Education.

(2) The establishment of a definition of plumbing.

(3) The specification and definition of the classifications "master plumber" "journeyman plumber", and "plumber's apprentice", and the delineation of the nature of plumbing services permissible under each classification.

(4) The establishment of educational and experience standards as a prere- quisite for each classification of license.

(5) The creation of a State Board of Plumbing Examiners to assist the Department of Registration and Education in examinations for licenses and in hearings for the revocation and suspension of licenses.

In Scully v. Hallihan, 365 Ill. (1937), the Act was held invalid in respect only to its application to drain layers. The requirement that drain layers be proficient in all aspects of plumbing was deemed an unreasonable and arbitrary interference with a lawful trade, having no reasonable relation to the protection of the public health. The legislature in 1951 enacted a new plumbers' license law which sought to remedy the defects of the previous law. Both the invalid 1935 Act and the 1951 Act reserved the power to license and regulate plumbers for the City of Chicago. The 1951 Act required that the municipal ordinance contain "provisions substantially the same as those in this Act." This language was not a part of the 1935 Act.

The license to be granted in Chicago under the provisions of Section 9 of the Act ... to engage in similar activity, would also be good over the entire state. This was to be true even though the times to be served and the instruction may differ materially in many vital respects, even to the extent of establishing two totally irreconcilable standards of instruction to qualify persons to perform the same work, and to examine them in order to determine if they have acquired those qualifications.

Under the terms of the 1951 Act a plumber licensed by the State may work in Chicago and a plumber licensed by Chicago may perform services in the rest of the State. The legislative direction that the municipal ordinance contain provisions substantially similar to those in the 1951 Act was intended to insure the same educational and experience qualifications as well as the same examination standards for each class of license.

With the help of the Department of Public Health and the advice of the Illinois Plumbing Advisory Board, under the authority contained in the Illinois Plumbing Code Law, approved on June 18, 1957, the Plumbing Code was adopted as an advisory code of minimum standards of good plumbing practice on July 1, 1959.

In 1969 the Illinois State Plumbing Code was promulgated in accordance with Section 4, Illinois Plumbing Code Law (Paragraphs 116.68 through 116.75.5, Chapter 111-1/2, Illinois Revised Statutes.) The 1969 Plumbing Code and Law were enforced by State Plumbing Inspectors. As the profession of plumbing received greater recognition for its role in the protection of the health of the public, it became even more evident that plumbing must be installed by persons who have proven their knowledge of the sciences of pneumatics and hydraulics and their skill in installing plumbing.

On October 1, 1975, the Plumbing Code Law was repealed and the Plumbing License Law took its place. This Law transferred responsibility for the licensing of plumbers and apprentice plumbers from the Department of Registration and Education to the Illinois Department of Public Health. In the spring of 1976, the Seal of the Department of Public Health was affixed to the Plumbing Code in accordance with the new "Illinois Plumbing License Law". This code was promulgated by the Department under authority of the Illinois Plumbing License Law, and has remained in effect since that time.

At the present time, a new Plumbing License Law is proposed and a new Plumbing Code proposal is winding its way back to the printer. As we look back over this history of the Illinois Plumbing Laws and program, we have a need to be grateful for the foresight of our ancestors for recognizing the importance of the proper installation of sanitary drainage and potable water piping. We as present day plumbers should seek, demand and secure a healthy future for our State through the installation of proper plumbing by qualified licensed plumbers.