Steel pipe has been used for water lines in the United States since the early 1850s. The pipe was first manufactured by rolling steel sheets or plates into shape and riveting the seams.

This method of fabrication continued, with improvements, into the 1930s. Pipe wall thicknesses could be readily varied to fit the different pressure heads of a pipeline profile.

Lock-Bar pipe, introduced in 1905, had nearly supplanted riveted pipe by 1930. Fabrication involved planing 30-ft long plates to a width approximately equal to half the intended circumference, upsetting the longitudinal edges, and rolling the plates into 30-ft long half-circle troughs. H-shaped bars of special configuration were applied to the mating edges of two 30-ft troughs and clamped into position to form a full-circle pipe section.

Welding Leads the Way

By the early 1930s, both the riveting and Lock-Bar methods were being replaced by welding. Pipe produced using automatic electric fusion welding was advantageous because fewer pieces were used, fewer operations were performed, seam protrusion was reduced, and welded seams yielded 100% efficiency.

The next improvement was helically formed and welded pipe, developed in the early 1930s. It was used extensively in diameters from 4 in. through 36 in. Welding was performed using the electric fusion method.

After World War II, German pipe manufacturing machines were imported and subsequently developed domestically. They were capable of spirally-welding seams to improve pipe integrity and ensure maximum water flow.

A Durable Future

Today, improved quality of steel and innovations in coatings and linings make steel water pipe a highly viable choice for water infrastructure. Dielectric coatings or cement-mortar coatings provide external corrosion protection. Centrifugally-spun cement-mortar linings provide internal corrosion protection and a smooth interior surface that insures maximum water flow.

Further, NFPA’s Flammable and Combustible Liquids Code requires aboveground storage tanks, including those for flammable ethanol fuel blends, to be constructed of steel.

A Century of Service Life

There are steel pipelines installed more than 100 years ago that are still in service. In 2013, STI/SPFA presented its first Pipe Century Club award to Denver Water, for a 2500-foot section of water pipe built in 1911 and still in service today.

Resource Type

  • Guidance