Unable to do much out of the house, he watched the Learning
Channel, the History Channel and Discovery. He comes from
long line of tinkerers and inventors. His grandfather, an accoun-
tant, invented several things including a folding dustpan that his
son helped assemble as a young boy to sell during the Depression.
“I must’ve watched the history of concrete 11 times,” Stewart
says. “All of a sudden, I was learning things and seeing how tech-
nology had progressed.”
One Easter Sunday, he broke down while at the dining table
with his wife and kids. He decided he was going to spend the
rest of his life “looking for the most signiﬁcant thing I could get
He circled a target date on his calendar 90 days away. He
would start looking for the coolest nonproﬁt he could ﬁnd.
A couple months later, Stewart was nearing his last day on the
job when a water pump went out at his granite shop. He knew
Greenly’s company could provide a new one quickly, so he called
his old friend about a replacement.
“I called him right back, I said, ‘Stewart! I can’t believe you’re
on my voice mail,’” says Greenly, who had been meaning to call
his long-lost friend to talk to him about his pump idea. The two
set up a lunch, and, through a twist of fate, it ended up being on
the exact date Stewart had circled on his calendar.
During lunch, talk ranged from business to Stewart’s back
and Greenly’s work in China and Sierra Leone. Greenly told him
about the hand-drilling method he was using that made it easier
to drill deeper wells in places such as Angola, where there’s a ton
of available labor and time, but no equipment or training. Greenly
asked Stewart if he’d help him build and develop a hand pump,
and Stewart agreed.
“He goes, ‘I’ll start tomorrow,’” Greenly says. “I go, ‘What
about your work?’ He goes, ‘This is my last day at work — today.’
I said, ‘What are you going to do?’ He said, ‘Build your hand
pump. Didn’t you just ask me to build a hand pump?’ I’m like,
‘Seriously, dude, this doesn’t pay any money. This is for funsies.’”
Stewart knew this was his chance. Greenly’s plan called for a
pump that had few parts and no O-rings or leathers — the things
most likely to fail in conventional pumps. It had to be durable,
light and able to pump water up from 80 feet underground.
“I found out later the reason he called me was that I wouldn’t
know that what he was talking about wasn’t possible,” Stewart
says. “I had never built a water pump from scratch.”
“Ignorance,” Greenly cackles, “100 percent ignorance made
you the most qualiﬁed person.”
Living off his savings, Stewart spent the next few months
working on the pump design. He read Leonardo da Vinci’s book
repeatedly, poring over each illustrated invention with a magnify-
Greenly kept trying to show him how water pumps work, but
Stewart refused to listen. He wanted to come up with his own. He
recalls hours spent in hardware stores’ PVC pipe section.
“I felt like every security camera was focused on me,” Stewart
says. “They must’ve been thinking, ‘What is that guy doing still
on that same aisle?’”
“And not ever buying anything,” Greenly says.
“And not buying anything — just trying to see how things slid
together,” Stewart says.
He visualized how one would assemble Leonardo’s pump with
today’s materials. He worked on it at his house, starting with how
oil and windmill pumps work. He noted their chief ﬂaws — they
use mechanical pressure that can cause parts to wear out. He
produced about a dozen prototypes before the ﬁnal one that sent
a triumphal jet of water over the fence behind his house.
The group’s luck continued. Greenly attended a leadership
conference for business people at a yacht club on Lake Michigan.
He met up with a pastor there who later talked to his congrega-
tion about Greenly’s work.
A church member gave the pastor a $100,000 check for
Greenly, who couldn’t take the money because he hadn’t set up a
bona ﬁde charity yet. That led to the birth of Water4. Greenly and
his wife started fundraising.
PHOTO / WATER4
“I found out later the
reason he called me
was that I wouldn’t
know that what he
was talking about
wasn’t possible. I had
never built a water
pump from scratch.”
— Steve Stewart