Henry Cogswell, Temperance Philanthropist

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. Many were built.

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.

Henry Cogswell

Dr. Henry Cogswell

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. And many more were built because they were small, simple, and more economical. The idea that water fountains could replace the saloon seems quaintly naive.

Cogswell’s fountains were actually dwarfed within the large structures covering them. Each was different. But they were usually topped by a large statue of Henry Cogswell.  He was holding an alcohol abstinence pledge in one hand.  A glass of water was in the other.

The fountains were  generally not well-received. One in San Francisco was torn down by “a lynch party of self-professed art lovers.” Another in Rockville, Connecticut was thrown into a lake.

One in Washington, DC, has been called “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. Cogswell Fountain


Cohn, A. They’re 6 feet under, but pioneers draw crowds to Oakland, San Francisco Chronicle, Jan 5, 2001.