We tend to take for granted what a bleak and dangerous world surrounded us within the life spans of people still alive today. In 1896, Halsey W. Taylor lost his father to an outbreak of typhoid fever caused by contaminated water. A few years later, as a plant superintendent in a Packard auto plant, he noticed dysentery spreading quickly through the factory workers, again due to waterborne pathogens.

These experiences inspired Halsey Taylor to dedicate his life to providing safe drinking water. In 1912, he developed a sanitary drinking fountain he named "The Puritan," and began producing it in Warren, Ohio.

A few years later the U.S. entered World War I and overcrowded army camps created the usual sanitation problems that had been plaguing armed forces throughout history. Halsey Taylor called on the renowned U.S. Army physician, Major Walter Reed, with an idea for a bubbler that would provide a safer drink to our armed forces. When asked for a model, Taylor carved the famous "Double Bubbler" from a bar of soap. He ended up securing an army contract and started the company on its road to prominence. (Due to Taylor's innovation and other sanitation initiatives, WWI was the first major conflict in history in which battlefield casualties surpassed those brought on by camp diseases.)

Halsey Taylor and the company that would bear his name developed many other firsts, including the first chilled water fountain, the first remote chiller, the first refrigerated water cooler, the first wall-mounted water cooler and the first wheelchair-accessible cooler. This year, the company has introduced what it calls a totally new concept in ADA-compliant, barrier-free coolers, i.e., accessible to wheelchair-bound children as well as adults.

"Halsey Taylor has always been in the forefront of coolers and drinking fountains," said Al Huneycutt, HT's vice president of marketing & sales. He also cites with pride that the company was the first to announce that all of its cataloged drinking water system components are classified by Underwriters Laboratories as being in accordance with ANSI/NSF 61, Section 9, not just for absence of lead, but also for more than 50 listed contaminants and metals.

A 23-year veteran with the company, Huneycutt said the biggest change in the business has been the growth of the cooler replacement market. "We used to get most of our business from new construction. Now about half of water cooler sales are replacement," said Huneycutt.

Owned by Elkay since 1991, Halsey Taylor enjoys a particularly strong position in the outdoor water cooler market, making vandal-resistant products for golf courses, schools, parks and shopping centers. As part of its 90th Anniversary celebration, Halsey Taylor has come out with a limited edition "90th Anniversary Drinking Fountain" (above, center) with nostalgic styling and made of Marblyte (a solid, one-piece, non-porous material similar to Corian).