Where We Live: Benson Bubblers

Simon Benson donated the first 20 Benson Bubblers in 1912

A Benson Bubbler in downtown Portland. (Courtesy, Portland Water Bureau)
A Benson Bubbler in downtown Portland. (Courtesy, Portland Water Bureau)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — When you take a sip from one of the more than 50 iconic Benson Bubblers around Portland, you have philanthropist Simon Benson to thank.

Simon Benson in front of a one of fourteen "Benson Bubbler" he gave to the city of Portland. (Oregon Historical Society Research Library OrHi 50309)
Simon Benson in front of a one of fourteen “Benson Bubbler” he gave to the city of Portland.
(Oregon Historical Society Research Library OrHi 50309)

The old-fashioned drinking fountains have been around for more than a century, and how they got there is a big part of where we live.

Benson, who was born in Norway, followed his brother Jon to the United States in the 1860s. He first landed in Wisconsin, then moved to Oregon where he became wealthy in the timber industry.

He donated the first 20 Benson Bubblers in 1912.

“He was concerned that his workers were imbibing a little too much alcohol during the workday,” Kerry Tymchuk with the Oregon Historical Society said. “He wanted to give them an alternative, which was a clean water supply.”

The businessman and philanthropist also built Portland’s luxury Benson Hotel, built up the Columbia Gorge Hotel and donated the land that includes Multnomah Falls. In 1916, he gave the Portland School District $100,000 to build what is now Benson Tech.

Many of the old-style fountains you see in downtown Portland today are recreations. The originals all have 4 fountains together and an inscription with Benson’s name.

Benson’s actual home is now the Alumni Center at Portland State University.

He died in 1942, but his famous drinking fountains are quenching Portlanders’ thirst to this day.

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