late 14c. (from c.1100 as a surname), "a worker in any sort of lead" (roofs, gutters, pipes), from Old French plomier "lead-smelter" (Modern French plombier) and directly from Latin plumbarius "worker in lead," noun use of adjective meaning "pertaining to lead," from plumbum "lead" (see plumb (n.)). Meaning focused 19c. on "workman who installs pipes and fittings" as lead water pipes became the principal concern of the trade. In U.S. Nixon administration (1969-74), the name of a special unit for investigation of "leaks" of government secrets.
The word "plumber" dates from the Roman Empire. The Latin for lead is plumbum. Roman roofs used lead in conduits and drain pipes and some were also covered with lead, lead was also used for piping and for making baths. In medieval times anyone who worked with lead was referred to as a plumber as can be seen from an extract of workmen fixing a roof in Westminster Palace and were referred to as plumbers "To Gilbert de Westminster, plumber, working about the roof of the pantry of the little hall, covering it with lead, and about various defects in the roof of the little hall". Thus a person with expertise in working with lead was first known as a Plumbarius which was later shortened to plumber.