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The History of the Bathtub

Bathing plays an extremely important role in our life. This process cleans your skin effectively, helping you avoid irritation and inflammation. Warm baths can significantly improve mental and emotional health as well. Soaking in a tub helps reduce stress, soothe muscles, elevate your mood, and even improve your sleep.

Today, it’s hard to imagine a modern home without a beautiful and functional tub. But it has not always been like that. In distant times, bathtubs were a luxury and out of reach of most people.

The history of the bathtub is exciting. No doubt, it will be interesting for you to find out how the first bathtubs appeared. So, let’s explore the invention and evolution of the tub.

Bathing and sanitation in Roman times

History reveals that bathing played a key role in the ancient Roman society and culture. Bathing was an important activity that was practiced daily. The Romans created a sewage system, used marble fixtures, as well as bronze and lead pipes.

In our modern world, taking a bath is a private activity. But in the Roman Empire, people visited public baths to get clean and communicate. It’s worth mentioning that the Romans had three baths – warm, hot, and cold. In fact, a cold bath was a large swimming pool where people could cool their bodies.

Obviously, personal health and sanitation were the top priority for people in the Roman Empire. Wealthy Romans had an opportunity to make a bath in their houses. For that purpose, they heated several rooms or even a large separate building.

The collapse of the Roman Empire and sanitation change

After the fall of the Roman Empire, sanitation almost disappeared. During that period, bathing stopped being an essential part of people’s lives. They preferred using perfume instead of bathing.

People did not realize that proper waste disposal was critical for their health. That’s why, they simply threw their waste out into the streets or even into the rivers that were often used as a source of drinking water. People drank contaminated water without understanding how detrimental it could be. This situation lasted for many years until the outbreak of the bubonic plague took place. Between 1347 and 1351, that horrible disease killed one-third of human population in Europe.

After the death of so many people, some attempts to improve sanitation were made. However, no major changes could take place without indoor plumbing. So, Europeans had to wait several hundred years more until indoor plumbing was invented. But what tubs were available at that time?

Chamber pots and washbowls

Before the invention of indoor plumbing, washbowls and chamber pots were widely used by people in many cultures. These were light and portable accessories that could be taken out of storage when needed. Obviously, a person who woke up in the middle of the night did not want to go outside to relieve himself. But who wants to go outdoors when it’s snowing or raining? So, people used chamber pots to make their life easier. The accessories were made from metal or ceramic and came in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. A chamber pot could also be part of a chair known as a close stool.

The invention of indoor plumbing and the toilet

History reveals that the first flush toilet was designed by Sir John Harrington in 1596. Harrington was an outstanding personality. He studied law and had a talent for writing. He was also a courtier under Queen Elisabeth I who was so much attracted to his poetry.

The toilet, invented by Sir John Harrington, was called Ajax. It was installed in Kelston, at his manor. This toilet was the forerunner to the flush toilet we use today. The toilet had a tank and a flush valve that helped the water out of the tank. It’s interesting to know that about 7.5 gallons of water were required to flush the toilet.

Even though the Queen really liked this invention, people were not very enthusiastic about it, and still preferred to use a chamber pot.

In 1775, almost two hundred years later, Alexander Cummings, a Scottish watchmaker, patented a flush toilet. His device was very similar to Harrington’s invention. However, there was a key difference that played a decisive role. He used an S-trap to keep water in the waste pipe and prevent sewer gases from getting into the buildings. So, this fabulous inventor managed to improve the flush mechanism and solve the problem of unpleasant smells.

According to historical data, the first plumbing systems were discovered about 6000 years ago in India. Archeologists discovered copper water pipes during the excavation of the ruins of the ancient palace that was located near the Indus River Valley. However, the indoor plumbing system as we know it today first appeared in American homes in the middle of the 19th century.

Even though plumbing systems became fully functioning, the pipes could not be effectively used for a long time. The pipes were wooden. So, the water from those pipes often had a wooden taste and was infested with unpleasant insects. Plus, wooden pipes would break very often.

The problem was solved in 1804 when cast iron pipes started gaining popularity. It’s worth mentioning that Philadelphia was the first American city that successfully used cast iron pipes.

At the beginning of the 19th century people noticed the link between poor sanitation and disease. However, until the 1840s, only rich people could afford indoor plumbing in their homes. But in 1829, Isaiah Rogers, a talented architect from Massachusetts, constructed 8 water closets in the Tremont Hotel situated in Boston. It became the first hotel with the fully functioning indoor plumbing system.

The invention of the bathtub

No doubt, the importation of cast iron pipes to the US was a breakthrough. Cast iron has significantly improved the quality of the indoor plumbing. In 1883, another breakthrough occurred. It was the invention of the bathtub by John Michael Kohler. He took a cast iron horse trough, enameled it, and attached four decorative feet to the bottom of the tub. So, the first clawfoot bathtub was developed.

The process of enameling the tub helped to create smooth surface that was easy to clean and prevented the spread of disease-causing bacteria. Clawfoot bathtubs became extremely popular within a short period of time.

The US experienced a construction boom after the end of World War I. At that time, a bathroom was already fitted with a sink, toilet, and a clawfoot bathtub. However, it’s worth mentioning that even in 1921, only one percent of households had an indoor plumbing system.

By the end of the 19th century, the importance of daily bathing became clearly understood. But since indoor plumbing was still a luxury, not all homes were equipped with a separate bathroom. So, people started searching for innovative ways to heat water for bathing and incorporate a portable tub into a room design.

At that time, the Mosely Folding Bathtub was developed. The tub had a very interesting and unusual design. It looked like a mirrored wardrobe, but at the same time it was a tub that folded down and out when necessary. The tub had a detachable hot water heater. The bathtub could function without plumbing and pipes. That’s why, the used water drained into a basin that had to be emptied by someone.

Bathtub Design

The evolution of the bathtub

In the era when the houses with the indoor plumbing and running water were just beginning to appear, having a bathroom with a flushing toilet and a tub was a crucial step towards better hygiene.

When the cost of cast-iron tubs decreased, more people could afford to buy them. It’s worth mentioning that a tub with a round bottom and a sloping head was the most popular style often chosen by homeowners.

Some people preferred Roman tubs that looked luxurious and attractive in large bathrooms. It was a huge tub with sloping round ends. The tub was ideal for people who really liked soaking in hot water for a long period of time.

Bathtub Design

Some homeowners chose to buy rectangular, French-style tubs offered by some manufacturers. The French-style tub had vertical sides, one rounded end and a flat bottom.

No doubt, clawfoot bathtubs were a centerpiece of every bathroom. They could reinvigorate any bathroom design, turning this room into the perfect place for rest and relaxation. However, cleaning a clawfoot tub was not an easy task.

Evolving Styles & Designs

In 1928, the Crane Company added different colors for bathroom fixtures. It was a breakthrough that created so many opportunities for a sophisticated bathroom design.

Homeowners really liked the idea of adding more color to their bathrooms. Matching bathtubs and toilets to the tile and wallpaper became extremely popular. White stopped being the main color of the bathroom.

In the 1930’s, Ming Green was the name of the color often chosen for bathtubs. This amazingly beautiful color is a mixture of green and cyan. Ming Green fixtures were successfully paired with peach and mauve tiles, creating a truly unique bathroom design.

In the 1940’s, people preferred to use bright colors in bathroom designs. Bathtubs and toilets in baby blue color could often be seen in bathrooms of that time.

Bathtub Design

In the early 1950’s, pink became an extremely popular color widely used in bathroom designs. Pink bathtubs and toilets looked stunning in combination with gray tiles. At the end of the 1950’s, the colors became deeper and richer. Colors such as teal could refresh any bathroom design, adding more luxury and elegance to it. This innovation made cleaning much easier.

In the 1960’s, turquoise color was used to develop a relaxing bathroom design. According to color psychology, turquoise heals and controls our emotions, helping to create stability and emotional balance. This color was definitely a great choice for a bathroom design.

In the 1980’s, a wide variety of colors were used for bathroom decoration – peach, salmon, gray, teal as well as hunter green, mauve and dusty blue. In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, large tiles with unusual geometric patterns were chosen by homeowners to make the bathroom stand out.

In the early 2000’s, bright colors in a bathroom lost their popularity. Designers turned to muted colors instead.

Today, minimalism and neutral colors are the top bathroom trends. With so many types of bathtubs available on the market, you will be able to create a fantastic bathroom that combines elegance, luxury, and functionality.

If you’re ready to purchase your bathtub, check out our article here on buying bathtubs.

Read more about the history of the bathtub below:

The History of The Bathtub

A Brief History Of The Modern Bathtub