Milwaukee, WI

Bubbler or drinking fountain? Depends where you live

Tracy Carbone

bubbler/drinking fountainPhoto byHamid SiddiqionUnsplash

Coming from Massachusetts, I’ve always referred to drinking fountains as bubblers. Or, before I worked on toning down my accent, a “bubblah.” Moving to California, this brought no end of amusement to my SoCal native husband.

Doing some research on the more common term revealed more than I expected. defines the term “drinking fountain” as that “thing that provides access to drinking water in places like government buildings, schools, and parks? There are many different designs for it, but it generally works by ejecting a jet of water that can be drunk from directly.” It further states the term drinking fountain is most common in the western U.S. from about the mid-1800s.

Another term used is water fountain, “The first records of the term water fountain in reference to a drinking fountain come from around the 1700s. People who live in the south or northeast parts of the United States tend to say water fountain most often.”
bubblerPhoto byDeborah L CarlsononUnsplash

It finally states, “The word bubbler is typically only used this way in a few areas of the US, including Wisconsin and parts of New England. Example: The line to get a drink from the bubbler at the Sox game was wicked long.”

JSonline provides from clues about where the term bubbler originated and debunks the common theory that this was created from a Kohler company’s ad campaign.

Fountains “began popping up in Milwaukee in the late 1880s, but, at least in the pages of The Milwaukee Journal and Sentinel, they were always called “drinking fountains.”

It the early 1900s, drinking fountains were first called bubblers “in Milwaukee newspapers…when they're called ‘sanitary bubblers,’ ‘fountain bubblers’ or ‘water bubblers.’ The prefixes fell away by the early 1920s.”

The article continues by debunking the claim that the term was coined by the Kohler company “reportedly trademarking the name in 1888. Only problem with that: As the Sheboygan Press reported in 2014, Kohler Co. didn't exist under that name until about 1900.”

Although drinking fountain, water fountain, and bubbler can be used interchangeably in the United States, “By the early 1960s, news reports highlighted the fact that calling a bubbler a bubbler was the sure sign of being a Milwaukeean.”

Huffington Post, per dialect maps from 2013, explains that for reasons that are not clear, the term bubbler is also prevalent in Rhode Island and areas of Massachusetts close to Rhode Island.

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I'm a California based writer, blogger, and painter who strives to post local and national articles to inspire and engage my readers.

Simi Valley, CA

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