The History of Pumps

Blog»The History of Pumps

It may seem like a simple device, but the humble pump only came about after thousands of years of development.

Pumps, regardless of application, have the same purpose – to raise or transfer liquids.

In this blog we are going to look at the history of pumps and find out how it evolved from a simple idea into a device we use in a wide range of modern day industries.



The invention of the pump is accredited to the Mesopotamians around 3000 B.C. Mesopotamia was an ancient empire that was located in what is now modern day Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey. The Mesopotamian’s were a clever lot and invented a horde of useful things like writing, the wheel, agriculture, wine and the domestication of animals – just to name a few.

Their pump was very primitive by today’s standards, but it got the job done. They placed a wooden lever next to a water bank. On one end was a bucket and the other was a counterweight. When the pole was pushed down, the bucket filled with water. The counterweight brought it back up so it could be emptied into a trough. Pretty clever idea, isn’t it?


Archimedes Screw

The next big leap happened between the 3rd and 1st century BC when there were big advances in technology and science. Hellenistic engineers came up with the water wheel, which they used for irrigation and as a power source.

It was also around this time that Archimedes came up with what is arguably the greatest invention of all time – the screw pump – an invention that is so simple and ingenious that it is still used in part of the world that lack electrical pumps.

Another great contributor to hydraulic tech during this period was by Ctesibus of Alexandria, Egypt. He invented the force pump, which is a sort of hand pump. It comprised of a cylinder that had a plunger on top that drew water through valves.

Modern day pumps


After the fall of the Roman Empire, development in pump technology went stagnant for over a millennia and a half. It wasn’t until the Enlightenment that people started to think about pumps and hydraulic science again. This allowed a rebirth in thinking about pumps and over the next few centuries, there was an explosion in new ideas and inventions, which have contributed to the pumps we have today. Let’s look at a few examples of modern day pumps.

Centifugal pump – A motor driven pump that creates a suction to pull water. It was invented by Denis Papin at the end of the 17th century.

Savery Pump – In 1698, Thomas Avery designed a pumped that used steam to create a vacuum that could draw water.

Axial-flow – Since the 1940s, this pump has been used as a compressor in jet engines, but it also has applications in the commercial and industrial sector.

Jet pump – This is a variation of the centrifugal pump, but has been modified to suck water from deep wells.

Electromagnetic pump – This type of pump is commonly found in nuclear reactors, because it can move liquid metal (or electrically conductive liquids) and handle very high temperatures. It moves liquid using an electromagnetic force.

We’ve only briefly touched on the history of pumps here. However, you can get a sense of how the rudimentary design of the Mesopotamian wooden lever has evolved into the pumps we see and use today.