"The Pretty Plumber" That Made History
The 1950s are iconic for their malt-shops, sock-hops, and rock 'n roll. But it may be surprising to find out that the 1950s also produced a significant event in plumbing history and made waves in women's history in the form of Lillian Ann Baumbach.
Lillian Ann Baumbach made the world record for the First Female Master Plumber ever. Her record-breaking career made her famous, with her face gracing Army pin-ups overseas, TV shows, and magazines. Her charming visage and gorgeous features, paired with her unorthodox career choice, earned her the title "The Pretty Plumber."
The Road To the First Female Master Plumber
Lillian Ann Baumbach was born in 1930 to a family of plumbers. Her father, W.J. Baumbach, owned a plumbing business in Arlington, VA.
Lillian started her plumbing career young and quickly found that she had a knack for plumbing work. At six years of age, Lillian began accompanying her father on plumbing jobs. Where most girls asked for Hoola-hoops and tea sets for their birthday, Lillian asked for plumbing kits. Where teenage girls were dreaming of poodle skirts and drive-in dates, Lillian worked with her father on the job.
As she reached adulthood, Lillian started working in earnest for her father in the office. She gave estimates, helped out on jobs, and acted as a receptionist at the family business. Eventually, Lillian decided to take the Master Plumber's plunge and became the first-ever Master "Plumberess," as some news articles dubbed her.
Lillian's Fame: Penpals and Pin-ups
Lillian's success in passing the Master Plumber's exam launched her into stardom. She had the trademark beauty of the 1950s, a full pout, slender figure, and pretty curls. This and her plumber status made her a novelty featured on magazine covers, news articles, and more.
As her fame grew, Lillian began to receive letters from troops overseas and fans stateside. A U.S. Army post in Korea elected her their pin-up girl, and their troops wrote to Lillian asking for her photo, plumbing advice, and even for her hand in marriage. Lillian was selective in sending out her pictures, but she wrote to her new pen-pals and shared her story as she went on air on programs like "What's My Line?" to show the world that women could become plumbers.
Lillian shattered the status quo by becoming the first Female Master Plumber in history. Since then, women have slowly gained ground in plumbing and other trade-related work. The World Plumbing Council has recognized a deficit in trade workers and identified women as an untapped source of potential for improving the numbers of plumbing professionals.
Drawing women into the plumbing field has become a movement fueled by such organizations as Tools and Tiaras, founded in 2017 by Judaline Cassidy. The programs work to introduce the trades to young women with summer schools, workshops, and local chapters that get them started in the field. Plumbing schools now offer scholarships and incentives for women, recognizing their potential to succeed and bring new life into the plumbing field. Because of all this, the number of women in the industry is increasing.
Thanks to pioneers like Lillian Ann Baumbach, the trades are more open to women joining, creating a world where women can take on jobs that used to be largely a "man's world."
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