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Oregon Historical Photo: The Benson Bubblers

Benson Bubblers, 1912

Benson Bubblers, 1912

The Oregon Historical Society. Orhi 83848

Every week, Oregon Experience shares a photo highlighting the state’s diverse, exciting history. All photos are courtesy of The Oregon Historical Society.

In 1912, philanthropist Simon Benson gave the city of Portland $10,000 for the installation of 20 bronze drinking fountains. These fountains are known today as the Benson Bubblers.

But it’s not quite clear why Benson wanted the fountains installed.

According to local folklore, Benson installed the fountains in an attempt to keep loggers out of the saloons at lunchtime. But according to another account, Benson was inspired after seeing a young girl crying at a Fourth of July parade. She was upset because she could not find water.

The copper bubblers were designed by Portland architect A.E. Doyle. Doyle is best known for his work on the Multnomah County Library, Multnomah Falls Lodge and Providence Park.

The first bubbler was installed on SW 5th Avenue and Washington Street. In the 1970s, the Benson family decided to limit the four-bowl bubblers to certain downtown boundaries in an attempt to preserve their uniqueness.

In recent years, the Portland Water Bureau has redesigned the bubblers to conserve water, reducing the use of water by 40 percent. The fountains flow year round, but are only turned on from 6:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.

To learn more about the history of Oregon’s water supply, watch the Oregon Experience documentaries “Bull Run” and “Beervana.”

Bull Run


Benson Bubblers