(WYTV) – The Beverage Marketing Corporation tells us that bottled water is a more than a $20 billion industry in this country and growing all the time.

Bottled water sells better than soda as Americans’ favorite drink. But a century ago, there was no bottled water industry. Water flowed from the tap and that was it and it was fine. What changed that? Marketing.

In 1920, for example, most American cities offered free, filtered, chlorinated water, all good for public health.
The turning point came in the 1970s. American scientist Nathaniel Wyeth patented the plastic bottle. It could stand the pressure of carbonated drinks and it was lighter than glass.

Then in the 1970s and ’80s, the French sparkling water company Perrier began an aggressive marketing campaign to get Americans to spend money on water. It hired Orson Welles to hawk its water on TV: “Perrier, more quenching, more refreshing,” and “naturally sparkling, from the center of the Earth.”

Perrier also began sponsoring athletic events such as the New York City Marathon to link its water with fitness and health.

By the ’80s, Perrier’s added the tagline “Earth’s first soft drink.”

And finally, in 1986 the Environmental Protection Agency warned Americans that some tap water could contain high levels of lead. While cities rushed to fix the problem, many people made the switch from public water to bottled water permanent.

The American Society of Civil Engineers says there are a quarter of a million water main breaks every year in the United States, spilling more than two trillion gallons of treated drinking water. That’s 145 times the amount of bottled water we drink.