Where’s the Bubbler?

If you live most places in the country, you probably have no idea how to answer this question. But if you live in Wisconsin, and especially in the southeast corner of the state, you’ll know just what this is.

A bubbler, for those of you in the 49 other U.S. states (though I hear a few New Englanders know what it is), is commonly referred to as a water fountain or a drinking fountain. You know, the thing in the hall at school where you bend down and get a drink of water. I’d heard it was going out of fashion, but it’s what my 17-year-old daughter and her Wisconsin born and bred friends call it. If you ask for a water fountain in Wisconsin, you’ll likely get directed to a large pool with a statue of a naked lady in the middle of it spouting water from her mouth.

The legend around here is that Kohler Water Workers, now known as the Kohler Company, had an employee in 1888 named Harlan Huckleby who invented a device that shot water about an inch into the air that bubbled at its apex. But as I researched this post, it appears that this myth, which has been told to Wisconsin school children for generations, is just that – a myth.There was never a company called the Kohler Water Works, and never an employee by the name of Harlan Huckleby (though that name is so good, I might have to steal it for one of my books!).

Iconic Milwaukee bubbler

The bubbler is actually a plumbing piece, the part of the drinking fountain that shoots out the water. Not nearly as fun of a story as the local legend. How did the term – and the myth – come about? No one seems to know. Some blame school children and the old-fashioned water coolers that bubbled when someone open the spigot to get a drink. But why, then, would that only be in Wisconsin?

So, the mystery remains. Maybe Wisconsinites just know their plumbing parts better than anyone else in the country. Whatever the origin, if you need a drink in Wisconsin, ask for the bubbler.

What regional colloquialisms are there where you live?




One comment on “Where’s the Bubbler?

  1. Haha. I never heard the myth about where the term “bubbler” came from. Also never realized that we Wisconsinites were the only ones who called them that word. I’ve stopped using it myself and always say drinking fountain. Been away too long I guess. There’s always the other one to wonder about. It’s “pop” or “soda?” From me it will always be pop.

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