Just a Pipe Dream: The use of Wooden Water Pipes at MSU
One of the most important infrastructural aspects of buildings today is how to get water to and from the building. Plumbing, of sorts, has been archaeologically visible and investigated at sites throughout the world. The earliest evidence of plumbing dates back to the civilizations of ancient Egypt and the Indus Valley in India, each at around 4000 BC. Since then, plumbing innovations and techniques have been refined into the elaborate systems we see today, such as using AI and Machine-Learning technologies in water management. However, it might be surprising to learn that just over 100 years ago, many water pipes on MSU’s campus were constructed of wood.
Former MSU Campus Archaeologist Dr. Terry Brock excavated one of these wooden water pipes in 2008 along Faculty Row and wrote an initial blog post about it, linked here . Dr. Brock analyzed the water pipe and concluded that it was a specific type of water pipe called a Wyckoff pipe, from the Wyckoff Pipe and Creosoting Company. Moreover, this pipe was likely manufactured at the Michigan Pipe Co. in Bay City, Michigan, one of the largest producers of wooden pipes in the entire country. Wooden water pipes using the Wyckoff augur started being produced in Bay County, Michigan in 1871 with the Northwestern Gas and Water Pipe Company. Ten years later, this company was succeeded by the Michigan Pipe Company . Since buildings on Faculty Row were constructed throughout the last half of the 19th century, it is likely that the college bought their wooden water pipes from the Michigan Pipe Company.
Other CAP excavations have revealed water pipe fragments, most commonly made of salt-glazed ceramic material. So why would the college have been using wooden water pipes? The answer likely lies in what was happening at the college at the time as well as Michigan’s climate.
As the (then called) State Agricultural College greatly expanded in the last quarter of the 19th century, partly as a result of the Morrill Land-Grant Acts, cheaper materials were favored in some areas of construction to aid in this rapid expansion. Wooden water pipes were generally thought to be out of use or favor by this time, having their hey-day in the early to mid-19th century. However, the Michigan Pipe Co. was actually flourishing. They claimed that their improved Wyckoff wooden water pipe was cheaper in terms of material and upkeep, resistant to frost due to the thick nature of the pipes (the logs), maintained cleaner water due to their tarred insulation, and
Despite the upsides to these cheaper and seemingly more efficient wooden pipes, the college decided to put them out of commission just a few years into the 20th century. Former CAP Fellow Nicole Raslich posted a blog on water sanitation at the university (linked here 
The iron pipes would have been much more expensive to buy and install (and would later lead to problems of their own – many of which the university and the city of Flint are still dealing with
 – Brock, T. Wood Pipes. 2008. Blog post (URL: https://msu.edu/~brockter/files/dc576f2f0bdf61c8f2e164ba5f17e576-76.html)
 – The Michigan Pipe Company, InHistory of Bay County, Michigan with illustrations and biographical sketches of some of its prominent men and pioneers. 1883. Chicago: H.R. Page.
 – Wooden Water Pipe. The Manufacturer and Builder, Vol. 18, Issue 1, pp. 4-5, 1886.
 – Raslich, N. Water Sanitation at MSU. 2016. Blog post (URL: https://campusarch.msu.edu/?p=3974)
 – Board of Trustees Meeting Minutes – 1902, p. 66. (Link to meeting minutes: http://onthebanks.msu.edu/Object/3-F-22B/meeting-minutes-1902/)