The Piping Blog

Piping: The Hidden Profession


Piping, The Hidden Profession By James O. Pennock, Piper, Consultant (Retired), Bayonet Point, Florida USA

You are at a family function, a Class Reunion or a party and you meet someone for the first time. You ask the other person about themselves; they tell you, their background, where they work and what they do. They then ask about you. You tell them where you were born, where you went to school, where you work and what you do. You are a Piper!

At this exact moment you see their eyes glaze over and their line of sight shifts to some other place in the room.
You know you are about to lose them. But, you go on, trying to bring them back.
Soon they make an excuse to leave and scurry away. Six months later you meet that same person again.
After the appropriate greetings the person says “Yes I remember you” and asks “are you still playing that “funny sounding Scottish wind instrument?”

There are many versions of this same story and I am sure all you Pipers out there have heard them all.
Every time this has happened to me I have wondered why is Piping such a hidden profession?
People know what a Lawyer is and what he or she does. People know what a Doctor is, what a Plumber is, what a Butcher is, what an Auto Mechanic is, what a Pilot is but how many people do you know (who are not in the Piping or Engineering game) know and understands what a Piper is and does?
Yet, where would the world be with out Pipe, Piping and Pipers?

I got to thinking about this a few days ago. I asked my self, “How important is Piping?
My answer was. It has to be in the top ten of mankind’s all time greatest inventions.

I then put together my list of what I thought would be the Top Ten Greatest Inventions.

My Top Ten Inventions by Mankind:
Weapons, the club to kill food and for protection
Language, verbal communication, the alphabet and writing Cups, bowls, pots, for drinking water and storage
Tools, the lever, the inclined plane, the screw
The Wheel, the cart to move people and things over distance
Pipe, fittings, stoppers (or valves) convey water over greater distance (think of the early Roman Empire and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon)
Woven Cloth (not animal skins), weaving
Boats, the Oar & the Sail
Agriculture, Orchards and Gardens Medicine, Leaves and berries

Now it is important to recognize that there is a difference between inventing something and discovering something.
Here are a few things that Man Discovered in nature but did not really invent.

Fire – This existed in nature so man just discovered it and learned how to use it (and miss-use it)
Metal – Copper, Iron and so on. These also existed in nature; man perfected the refining and forging process.
Gravity – Newton did not invent gravity, he just discovered it and was able to teach others what it was.

I then thought I should check out the Internet and see how I did.

There must be some great minds out there that have heard of Pipe and Piping, so let’s see where it is on their lists.

I took the top three lists and copied them down.
I was very disappointed in the “great minds” I had so wanted to have recognized Piping.

Here are their Lists condensed into one list:

Cooking/Electricity/”The Pill”
Tools/The Light Bulb/Steam Engine
Printing Press/Internet/Planes
Birth Control/Satellites/Laser
Internet/Telephone/Printing Press
Alcohol/Boats/ Television

Not even close. Number 4 on the first list is the only one that relates to Piping.
I am pleased that we got some kind of recognition even if it was not how we like to think of our profession.

The greater disappointment is the lack of recognition in today’s world for the truly significant inventions made by early man.
In view of this I now understand why the average man and woman we meet (away from our profession) do not know what Piping is, what piping does and how important piping is to their daily lives.

How important is piping?
Take some time and think about it.
If all the piping, pipe, fittings, flanges, valves had never been invented.
What if it all disappeared today?
What would this world be like?
There would be no Trains, Planes and Automobiles.
There would not be the abundance of electric power for motors or lights,
There would not be the medicines we have today, there would not be synthetic fabrics most of the clothes we wear is made of, there would not be rocket ships to the moon, there would not be clean drinking water piped to most homes, there would not be sewer systems and waste treatment plants, there would not be paint, soap and a lot of other products as we know then today.

The list goes on and on.
What if?
Yes, what if?
That is how important your Piping profession is.

It still does not explain why the average man or woman does not “See” piping in everything as you and I do.

Yes, Piping, The Hidden Profession.

About the Author


James O. Pennock has more than forty-five years in the process plant design profession. He has been involved in both home office and job site assignments on refinery, chemical, petrochemical, power and other projects. His experience ranges from entry level designer to engineering manager. Much of this was with Fluor. He is also the author of the book "Piping Engineering Leadership for Process Plant Projects." He is now retired, living in Florida, USA and does only occasional consulting work.

Mr. Pennock can be contacted via E-Mail at

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COM_KUNENA_TOPIC Blog 1K: Piping, The Hidden Profession

Posted: 5 years 5 months ago by Anton #8797
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Some comments through LinkedIn on this article.
Awesome article..
Very well described and referenced.
Title suits its contain.

Still some of my friend tease me by calling Plumber. :-)
It lights my job future again, good article, thx.
I am an Italian pipe stress it's more easy for me to explain my job ... People of my country may not link piping to bagpipes......but the issue is very cute ;-)
And that's exaclty why I say I'm a pipologist... at least is a conversation starter

By the way, both those lists missed one heck of an invention, the one that makes the world go round and round and round... I'm talking about money, of course.
Great article!
Not to be facetious, Elena, but money does not make the world go round, angular momentum does. Money is just one form of trade - and there are also other good alternatives. :o) I'm not so sure I would honor money as being one of the top ten inventions of all time, although I can see the temptation to do so.
It's just an expression Michael, economists can be funny like that...
You might not honor it but History channel for sure included it among the 100 inventions that changed the world.
Going back to piping and pipers, great careers both of you guys, Michael and Anton...
Drafting in general is a hidden profession. People either assume you're an engineer, or they don't know what it is at all. If you tell people you're a piper, maybe they think you play bagpipes for a highland pipe and drum corp... or perhaps lure rats out of small towns for a fee.
Ya know, I am with James, Piping, not Plumbing.... Plumbing comes from the Roman word for lead which is what their piping systems were made of. They ran their drinking water through lead pipes which gave them lead poisoning and resulted in the fall of the empire..... My point is; had the Romans had real pipers, they would have made better material choices for the potable water service thus avoiding the collapse of the empire... think bout that.... the lack of piping designers resulted in the fall of an empire.... We really are important James....
Posted: 5 years 5 months ago by Jop #8798
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To all of you, Thanks for the great comments.

(James O. Pennock)
Posted: 5 years 5 months ago by Anton #8773
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