Distilled Water History

When you think about the term “water distillation,” you probably think of it as some high tech form of water purification that was invented by modern man. In actuality, the concept of water distillation has been around for thousands of years. The only thing that has changed during this time has been the process that one must undertake in order to distill the water. Scientific evidence has shown that the first attempt of water distillation dates back to around 100 A.D. Apparently in the Egyptian city of Alexandria, alchemy was very popular and practiced by migrant Greeks who were working there. Evidence of distillation has also been found around this time period in China, which was the time period of the Han Dynasty.

Alchemy was an early form of chemistry. It wasn’t until the 1600s when alchemy finally evolved into chemistry. Before that, alchemy was considered to be magical and had religious undertones to it. When people finally started to understand more about science, that allowed chemistry to form. This was when retorts were starting to be used in the distillation process, which are spherical shaped pieces of glassware. The idea was that the water would be placed in the device and then heated. The curved neck of the device would condense the water vapor and then get collected underneath the device. Many of the earliest forms of distillation involved a process similar to this. The idea was to have one form of condensation and one form of vaporization.

By the 1800s, distillation was even more perfected with the invention of the reflux with preheated water. As chemists became more advanced at the distillation process towards the late 19th century, the distillation process started to divide into four different groups. These four groups were herbal distillation, food processing distillation, industrial distillation and laboratory scale distillation. The food processing distillation mostly had to do with distilling beverages, like water, rum and whiskey. The rum and whiskey needed to have its ethanol removed, which made distillation necessary. Herbal distillation has certainly benefited society by allowing chemists to extract oils from plants to create things like skin products and medicine. Industrial distillation is where chemical products, like natural gas and coal tar, are processed for distribution. This distillation is usually done in huge towers that are about 60 meters high. Then finally,  laboratory scale distillation is used when handling sensitive liquids that have very high boiling points. Liquids that are sensitive to temperature requires vacuum distillation to get rid of the solvents in the liquid without harming it.