Water storage tank structural engineering has changed dramatically over the decades and with it, the shape of water storage tanks.

Interestingly, what began as little more than a question of tank engineering eventually turned into fun ways to make the technology of the time look whimsical or symbolic in various ways.

Today, while water storage tank design has advanced in different ways to create a more stable vessel, some owners still enjoy going that extra mile to make theirs more memorable and unique!

Simple and Basic - The First Water Storage Tanks

At the beginning of time for the modern water tank, structural tank engineering was very basic.

Metal and concrete were the available materials of choice and the technology for using them led to the creation of tall, cylindrical, legless tanks that sat on the ground called standpipes.

Metal tanks were riveted, while concrete tanks were constructed from large concrete sections that got stacked; however, since concrete tanks tended to not last as long, it became a less-used material by the 1900s. 

Standpipes, which are still in use today, hold a pump at the bottom and rely on gravity feed to keep the water flowing.

Simple standpipes were useful, though a little unsightly, so water tank designers and owners sometimes went an extra step to make them less of an eyesore with paint or shaping them to look more appealing.

This period, which started in the mid-to-late 1800s, was when the habit of “decorating” water tanks began, a fun habit that is still done today.

Evolving Tank Design Over Time

The availability of higher quality steel brought about significant advancements in water storage tank engineering which resulted in changes in bowl types and how the bowls were supported.

Welded steel became the more functional construction method and material as higher quality steel was being produced.

The ability to construct strong, welded vessels then allowed the evolution of the bowl shapes as newer pump designs came about.

Spheres and oblong-shaped ellipsoids on pedestals and cylinders held up on tower legs were among the first departures from the simple standpipe design.

After those, water tank structural engineering expanded to include fluted columns or hydropillars, similar to standpipes but with larger tops for holding greater volumes, and elevated tanks upheld by strong, multi-column legs.

Noting that the biggest constraint for any of these ideas was how to securely hold up the storage vessel itself, water storage tank design that includes reinforced concrete pillars holding up metal bowls became another useful design that is still in use today.

Unique Takes On Water Storage Tank Design

The fun part in all of this is the many ways that municipalities, companies, and private owners have chosen to decorate their otherwise boring, or unsightly-looking storage vessels, turning them into curious pieces of functional art and treasured local landmarks.

Among these engineered water tower marvels are the giant coffee pot multi-column water and matching coffee cup that was later erected to accompany it, both in Stanton, Iowa; the “peachoid,” a spherical water tower in South Carolina painted to look like a peach; and the Chicago Water Tower, a standpipe tower with an entire gothic revival building constructed around it that has survived since 1869.

Additionally, there are countless local examples of elevated spherical, ellipsoid, and cylindrical tanks painted to look like sports balls with local team names and colors, ears of corn, hamburgers, and other food, multi-column tanks with “witches hat” brimmed tops, and tanks of all kinds bearing smiley faces, company logos, and funny quotes all across America and the world.

Water Storage Tanks - Useful and Fun

Though the structural engineering effort that goes into the design and construction of different types of water storage tanks may be boring for most, many can approach these vessels with a whimsical attitude.

Regardless of the water tank engineering style, some people will find interesting ways to decorate them.

What is truly inspiring is the creative ways that different tank designs can be dressed up to look like giant-sized versions of cute and funny things, turning them into local tourist spots that shouldn not be missed!

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