Dr. Henry Cogswell was an eccentric San Francisco dentist. He made a large fortune investing in real estate and mining stocks. In his old age, he became a philanthropist.
Henry Cogswell believed that if people had cool drinking water they wouldn’t drink alcohol. It was his dream to construct one drinking fountain for every 100 saloons across the U.S. Although he didn’t reach his lofty goal, Cogswell managed to built many.
The fountains were elaborate. Cogswell designed the granite structures himself. His fountains are in Washington, D.C., New York City, Buffalo, Rochester, Boston, San Francisco and other cities.
The concept of drinking fountains as alternatives to saloons was his. But it was later used by the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). Many of these fountains still exist today. The WCTU was able to build many more fountains. That’s because its were small, simple, and cost much less.
Nevertheless, the idea that water fountains could replace saloons seems quaintly naive.
Cogswell’s fountains were actually dwarfed within the large structures covering them. Each was different. A large statue of Henry Cogswell usually topped each. He was holding an alcohol abstinence pledge in one hand. A glass of water was in the other.
People generally thought the fountains were ugly. In San Francisco “a lynch party of self-professed art lovers” tore one down. People in Rockville, Connecticut threw one into a lake.
Some in Washington, DC, called one “the city’s ugliest statue.” But Cogswell thought it was ‘a tasteful Victorian blend of bronze, lead and granite, ornamented with a pleasing rococo filigree and curlicues.’1
Henry Cogwell’s structures reportedly led cities to screen such gifts before accepting them.
1. Kitsock, Greg. All’s well that ends with a drink to Cogswell. Washington City Paper, March 6, 1992.
Cohn, A. They’re 6 feet under, but pioneers draw crowds to Oakland, San Francisco Chron, Jan 5, 2001. Describes a Cogswell fountain.