Historic Structures

History Brooks Catsup Bottle Water Tower, Collinsville Illinois

The Brooks Catsup Boitle Water Tower is an elliptical bottom elevated water tank. Water storage tanks went through several transfomiations from the late 1800s to the middle 1900s. During the late 1800s, elevated water tanks (wood or metal tanks atop open trestles), water towers (a tank atop a tower of brick, concrete, or stone), and standpipes (a column containing water made of steel, concrete, or wrought-iron) became more prevalent as more and more businesses and towns were established in areas without natural or man-made water sources. These water storage structures, while only serving as one part of a larger water storage and distribution system, were the most conspicuous component. As a result, these structures not only played an important role in the early public works of many communities, but they also are good representatives of engineering developments and architectural trends that occurred during the late 1800s through the mid 1900s.

As the demand for water supply grew and the cost and maintenance of water work facilities increased, a search commenced for a more proficient water storage method. In the 1870s and 1880s, the most commonly used water storage structures were the water towers and standpipes. These were designed employing Victorian-era architectural ornamentation that hid the inner workings ofthe towers. Europeans began making headway in water lank design in the 1880s and began using curved tank bottoms, which needed less steel than the flat tanks and were more water-tight. Despite this innovation, these early European examples were still constructed with Classical or Victorian-era detailing. In America, flat bottom tanks in masonry towers remained the norm through the turn of the twentieth century.

Most communities in the 1870s 1880s preferred the masonry supported tanks, which were less expensive because they could be built with local materials. Masonry towers were also thought of as the most aesthetically pleasing water tanks. While many communifies opted for wood trestles and tanks for their first water tank, they could always be upgraded, which was often spurred by community pride in public works.

During the 1890s, the elevated water tank was being employed in the United States, and by 1905, it had become the most popular type used for water storage. It had several advantages over water towers and standpipes, including the fact that it was less expensive, since it required less steel, and due to its design, the water was less likely to freeze and it was simpler to remove any sediment that collected in the tank. The form of this type of elevated tank with a hemispherical bottom is most commonly referred to as the "tin man", since its cone-shaped roof with ball finial give it the appearance of the classic "Wizard of Oz" character. The tank is supported by a four post trestle tower.

The idea for using trestle towers for elevating water tanks may have come from several sources. Railroads created inexpensive elevated tanks that required little care in order to fill up their steam locomotives; windmill manufacturers produced less costly and less complicated wood and steel towers; lighthouses and range lights made a similar change from masonry to metal trestle towers; and there were connections made between bridges and trestle towers, for at least one prominent bridge engineer designed an elevated tank.

Originally, these elevated tanks were made of wood wUh wood trestles. Unlike the water lowers and standpipes, these tanks did not evoke any architectural style. They were plain in appearance, to keep the prices down, bui decorative features, such as brackets and finials, could be included, if desired. It was not until the 1900s that their appearance was challenged by the Chicago Bridge and Iron Works, but that was done to promote the use of their steel lank and undemiine the wooden tanks. The company lauded the look of their steel tank, which, they argued, was more aesthetically appealing.

Beginning in the late nineteenth century and continuing into the middle 1900s, there were several innovations that effected the design of the elevated water tank. Eariy efforts were concerned with the expensive of the structures, the water capacity, etc. which effected water tank design. Instead of the flat-bottomed tanks of the 1870s and 1880s. new tanks featured conical, hemispherical, and later elliptical bottoms. The new metal towers evoked the "truth in architecture" sentiments, in which many began to disdain the use of ornamentation to hide the actual use of a structure. Instead, the simplicity and the clean lines of the new lowers were praised. The elliptical bottomed tank was a response to the demand for more water storage with less pressure for full and empty water tanks, it also offered low maintenance costs, and easier cleaning, and soon became the preferred model. The simplicity of the new water tank and the continued attention to efficiency over design paralleled the American ideas of architecture at the time. For example, the elliptical tank became more rounded as the Art Deco and Art Modeme styles became popular. By the 1930s, the conical roof had disappeared. Technical innovations were allowing for these changes, and the design without decoration was well received.

Elevated water tanks were representative of how .Ainerican architectural ideals were influenced by commerce, not only by their design practicality, but also by another function they served:
One variation of the quest for the most functional tank was the introduction of advertising on elevated tanks. As corporate advertising became more common, company names and symbols were painted on the standard tin man which had been purchased to store water for factory processes or sprinkler systems. The new industrial advertising was govemed by a search for something "novel and picturesque,.." Tanks were transformed into three dimensional billboards, representation of products ranging from pineapples and tobacco cans to jars of Ovaltine.

The use of water tanks for advertising is not unique. Water tanks have, and in some cases, still are used to advertise products, promote civic pride, apparent by the many city names that appear on water tanks, and even convey certain sentiments - there is at least one water tank in Illinois with a large smiley-face painted on it. There is no doubt that the height of these elevated water tanks has been particularly appealing to advertisers.

Advertising has long been an integral part of American and western life, and most structures are not immune to becoming billboards:
"It is now quite generally conceded that it pays to advertise, and on a journey in any direction one cannot fail to notice the ever-increasing number of advertisements we are erecting... The milk bottle at Toronto is a good illustration. This tank standing high above surrounding buildings, holds the attention of all who come within vision, while at night, by projected light, it stands out majesiically, grand and white, against a dark sky. Its advertising value is incalculable . . . No printed word appears. It is not necessary. The structure is one great and lasting sight that stands night and day silently proclaiming: CITY DAIRY." (E. G. Daniels, "It Pays to Advertise" The Water Tower. June 1925.)

Advertisers were able to readily adapt to the automobile, which was quickly becoming a major form of transportation, by finding new venues to sell products. The number of Americans who drove automobiles was quickly increasing. In 1920 there were eight million automobiles on U.S. roads. Ten years later the figure had tripled. From 1940 onward the automobile was the chief mode of pleasure travel in the United States. Early in the explosion of automobile travel, signs painted on bams or walls became visible throughout the country. Mail Pouch Tobacco signs are the classic example of the automobile's increasing dominance over olher modes of travel: at the turn of the century Mail Pouch signs were painted upon the side of the barn which the train passed; by 1920 those same signs appeared on the automobile roadway side of the barn. It soon became apparent to the businessman that attracting the drivers' attention with spectacular, often jaw-dropping, mimeetic restaurants, water towers, and other large-scale structural devices was a way to increase business. So, commercial roadside art made its appearance. Between 1920 and 1950, before the advent of superhighways, expressways, and city bypass routes, America's population of automobile-loving citizens took to the byways of the country on two lane roads that on every side beckoned them to sleep in Wigwam Motels, eat in Brown Derby Restaurants, swim in piano-shaped swimming pools, or buy gas from Mobil's flying red horse.

The great era of roadside art declined with the passage of state and federal regulations controlling signage along highways. Standardized billboards along the interslates have replaced the homegrown roadside art promoted by local businesses and advertisers. Now many of these pieces of roadside art are vanishing. They have, in many cases, been left to decay on roads no longer traveled by the long distance driver. Their commercial purpose long passed; no money or reason has been available to see to their upkeep. Those remaining commercial roadside artifacts that have been preserved are reminders of an earlier time in advertising, and attest to Americans' eternal search for the novel and eye-catching. They have become tourist meccas in themselves. Travelers leave the seventy-five mile-per-hour expressway and make a side trip to see these reminders of Americas love affair with the automobile.

While built to serve a specific function. The Brooks Catsup Bottle Water Tower, a locally registered Collinsville Landmark, is a good example of both advertising and programmatic architecture. Water Towers have been used for advertising purposes for years. There are many examples today of water towers that are designed or decorated to sell products. What makes the Brooks Catsup Bottle Water Tower unique in Illinois is its age. There are few, if any, early water towers depicting actual products that are still extant in Illinois, The closest known example was the Campbell's Soup Water Tower, which resembled a large soup can. The water tower, which was part of the company's Chicago factory, has since been demolished.

Brooks Catsup Bottle Water Tower, Collinsville Illinois General view looking toward the catsup bottle shaped water tank
General view looking toward the catsup bottle shaped water tank

Brooks Catsup Bottle Water Tower, Collinsville Illinois Closer view of the tower and bottle-shaped tank
Closer view of the tower and bottle-shaped tank

Brooks Catsup Bottle Water Tower, Collinsville Illinois Close view of the Brooks Catsup Bottle
Close view of the Brooks Catsup Bottle