Benson Bubblers are uniquely Portland Oregon.
You will not find a Bubbler anywhere else in the world (there is only one exception) and, believe me, people have asked for them. Seattle and San Francisco, to name a couple cities, have wanted us to provide them with these lovely things. Out of respect for the Benson family's request, we turned them down flat.
So, what are these infamous drinking fountains? No, it's not Portland's professional Water Polo team, sillies! ;) The Bubblers came about in 1912, when a man named Simon Benson, a wealthy entrepreneur, felt very strongly about keeping his working loggers out of the saloons and bars.
With that intent in mind, he presented the city of Portland with $10,000 for the construction of 20 bronze, four-bowl drinking fountains, warmly known as Benson Bubblers.
These fountains were to be placed within the boundaries of the downtown Portland area.
The first two of these Portland drinking fountains installed were in front of Mr. Benson's home and the other on SW 5th and Washington. To date, those 20 original Bubblers has turn into 52. The only exceptions to the all-downtown rule has been a fountain presented to our city city, Sapporo, Japan, The other was placed at the Columbia River Gorge's Maryhill Museum of Art.
Most every Bubbler was constructed in local foundries, with the exception of two. By 1975, the cost of making them had absolutely gone through the roof.
To see if they could save money, the city of Portland asked some foundry students of Benson High School if they'd be willing to try their hand with it. Like most people asked to add something of that sort to the streets of the city for all to enjoy, they were pretty pumped about the proposition and got to work. The end result was two lovely, high-quality Bubblers, one of which sits in front of the Oregon Historical Society. Go check it out for yourself.
If you're interested in a little hunt, below is a map that pinpoints all the fountains throughout the downtown area.
The city takes extremely good care of these precious drinking fountains. Not only is every fountain cleaned twice a month, but the Portland Water Bureau has added various water conservation changes throughout the years. So much so, that, although the fountains operate 365 days a year, from 6:00 am to 11:00 pm, they only put out 1/10 of 1 percent of the water used by Portland. Pretty darned good, huh?
Now, if you happen to come across any of the 74 one-bowled types out there, don't mistake them for the real deal...they are simply additional water fountains put there to quench the thirst of Portland locals and visitors.
And that is the story of these unique and extraordinary Portland drinking fountains. Next time you're downtown with a friend, family member, co-worker or classmate and they go for a quick sip, you can tell them with authority the story behind the Benson Bubblers. They'll be totally impressed.