AWWA History

St. Louis, 1881

On March 29, 1881, in Engineers’ Hall on the campus of Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., 22 men representing water utilities in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, and Tennessee founded the American Water Works Association.

They adopted a constitution that stated the purpose of the association as being “for the exchange of information pertaining to the management of water-works, for the mutual advancement of consumers and water companies, and for the purpose of securing economy and uniformity in the operations of water-works.” 

On Jan. 1, 1976, AWWA filed Articles of Incorporation in Illinois that reframed AWWA's purpose as follows: 

"The purpose for which the Association is formed is to promote public health, safety, and welfare through the improvement of the quality and quantity of water delivered to the public and the development and furtherance of understanding of the problems relating thereto by:

  • Advancing the knowledge of the design, construction, operation, water treatment and management of water utilities and developing standards for procedures, equipment and materials used by public water supply systems;
  • Advancing the knowledge of the problems involved in the development of resources, production and distribution of safe and adequate water supplies;
  • Educating the public on the problems of water supply and promoting a spirit of cooperation between consumers and suppliers in solving these problems; and
  • Conducting research to determine the causes of problems of providing a safe and adequate water supply and proposing solutions thereto in an effort to improve the quality and quantity of the water supply provided to the public.

The history of AWWA is the history of the people who have committed themselves to achieving the purpose set forth more than a century ago, now simply stated as creating a better world through better water.

AWWA also takes great pride in helping establish two preeminent organizations dedicated to safe water, the Water Research Foundation in 1966, and Water For People in 1991. 

In the video above, former AWWA Executive Director Jack W. Hoffbuhr tells the story of AWWA from its origins in the days of Geronimo, Wyatt Earp and Clara Barton through the 20th Century breakthroughs in public health by Louis Pasteur, John Snow, George Warren Fuller and Abel Wolman and into the beginning of the 21st Century, when today's water industry legends continue to honor AWWA's legacy of public service.

AWWA's history is detailed in a collection of articles by AWWA luminaries in the March 2006 issue of Journal AWWA, which celebrated the 125th Anniversary of the creation of AWWA. Articles cover AWWA Standards, publishing, the Annual Conference, the origins of the Water Research Foundation and Water For People and topics such as water treatment, water distribution, microbiology analytical methods, security and disaster preparedness.