• FA-122371 © Technisches Museum Wien, Photo: Peter Sedlaczek
Collection Area
Everyday Life
Environmental Engineering
Everyday Life - directions for use
1850 - 1899

"Heidelberg tank system", sectional model, 1881

What to do with human excrements? The technical solution for the disposal of excrements required inventiveness and time-consuming experimentation.

For the rapidly growing cities of the 19th century, the regulated disposal of human excrements was a hygienic necessity for which a technical solution had to be found. One of the scientifically tested methods was the so-called "Heidelberg tank system".

The rare historic sectional model on exhibit at the Technisches Museum Wien (Vienna Technical Museum) reveals the principle: using the force of gravity, the faeces is routed into a collecting tank via sewer tubes. Once full, it is replaced by an empty tank and removed. The downpipes are fitted with a water seal (siphon) to ensure an odour-free connection with the toilets and the tank.

The system, which was initially tested in the German city of Heidelberg in 1868, distinguished itself especially through the water savings which were achieved. Furthermore, the content of the tanks could also be used as valuable fertiliser. A recycling process for faeces which had been tested for many centuries. Last not least, this also ensured that the rivers were kept free from all excrements.

The disadvantage was the cumbersome removal of the tanks and the fact that household water and rainwater could not be disposed of in this way. This is why the uniform waterborne sewage system, which was favoured by many engineers and hygienists, prevailed in the end. Although this meant that the excrements could not be recycled as fertiliser, this system with its wide network of domestic and collection sewers could take in all faeces and sewage water.

The "Heidelberg tank system", as an intermediate step, can be seen as a transitional system which emerged in the tension zone between technical trouble-shooting and economically motivated resource utilisation.

Inv.Nr. 33574
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