Ok, I Give Up! What ARE those?


Ahhh, there is nothing more relaxing than sinking up to your chin in a tub full of hot, fragrant bubbles or standing under a shower of hot water – luxuriating after a hard day’s work.  Did you ever give a thought as to what bathing was like before now?

The Romans had their public, heated, open-air, baths that were available to anyone to use – rich or poor.  (Let your imagination run on that one – common laborers bathing with the upper echelon!  At least they were all clean, I guess.)  Some of the upper echelon of society did have hot baths in their homes.  However, bathing in the next centuries was not so common.  Fast forward to the beginnings of this country.  

A hot bath? Nope.  You took a dip in the nearest creek, stream, pond, river, etc to get clean.  Refreshing in the summer, but not so much in other seasons – which meant much less bathing.  How in the world did they stand to around each other?  No Zest or Irish Spring or Dove or Ban or Degree!  Use your imagination!

For the settlers moving out across this country hot baths were, most of the time, a once a week event, if then.  And, an event it was!  It took hours to get an entire family bathed.  The family wash tub was hauled into the kitchen and placed in front of a wood burning stove.  Water would then have to be lugged from the nearest creek or pond, bucket by bucket, put into large pots to heat either outside on a fire or inside on the stove.  How long would it take to heat up enough water to fill up that wash tub?  Use your imagination again!

To the first person into the tub, usually the youngest family member, it was sheer luxury!  Was it then emptied and then refilled?  Uh, no.  One person out, the next one in; that one out, and then next one in and so forth until the entire family had had a bath.  What was the tub water like by the last bath? Use your imagination! 

Taking a shower inside the house was unheard of until William Feetham came up with an indoor shower.  The bather would stand in a basin and over their head was a tank full of water – cold water. One tank was not enough and had to be refilled – by climbing a ladder next to the shower.  Bathing was definitely NOT done in private.  Use that imagination again!                                                                                                             

With the development of indoor plumbing it now became possible to get water to where you wanted to use it – but the water was still cold – until 1868.  In 1868 Benjamin Waddy Maughan, a painter in the UK, invented a heater that used natural gas to heat up the water.  The heater was located next to the bathtub allowing the water to go directly into the tub.  Nice!  However, the gases created by the burning natural gas were not vented out of the room causing illness and occasionally, an explosion!   Needless to say, this heater, called “The Geyser” by Maughan, never really caught on in popularity. 

Following Maughan were others who took his idea and began working to improve on this indoor water heater.  One such inventor was Edwin Ruud, who in 1889, developed the first safe, automatic hot water tank to be used inside the home.  These heaters were still located in the bathroom, but with more and more homes having indoor plumbing and utility companies running gas lines to homes, it became possible to have one heater and have the hot water piped throughout the house.                                                                                                                                

I wonder if pioneers and others ever tried to imagine what it would be like to take a bath or shower without all that work?

Thankfully, we don’t have to imagine – we just luxuriate!

By the way, those pictures at the beginning? 

Those are early water heaters!