Plumbing is not just a matter of conveying water in and out of a building. Most mechanically adept handymen can figure out how to do that. The tricky part is providing
a system that will do so without sewage mingling with the drinking water and noxious odors permeating the building. This is the essence of the plumber’s craft. It takes considerable training and practice to earn the designation of a “professional plumber.”
By the 1880s, it was common knowledge that there was a relationship between filth
and disease, which led to better sanitation practices. Major urban centers such as
New York, Boston and Philadelphia enacted codes to govern the sanitary arrangements of buildings and began to register plumbers. However, those early regulations were poorly devised. Virtually anyone could pass himself off as a plumber. Moreover, the vast majority of American communities still had no plumbing regulations at all.
As a result, many inferior plumbing systems were installed during the late 19th century by middling mechanics that knew just enough to be dangerous. Then, as now, the public generally did not distinguish between knowledgeable plumbers and those masquerading as such. The plumbing trade in general was blamed for the sewage backups and stinky buildings that were all too prevalent.
The true craftsmen sought ways to distinguish those who knew what they were doing from those who didn’t. In 1882, a group of them in New York City banded together to form the Master Plumbers Association of New York. Shortly afterward, a like-minded group joined forces in Brooklyn. They would spearhead the formation the following year of the National Association of Master Plumbers (NAMP), the forerunner of what’s now the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors—National Association (PHCC).