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A Brief History of the Bathtub

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Jessica
09.24.12

If you’re a bathtub person, you probably have your routine down pat: a tall glass of wine, a few scented candles, a good book and plenty of bubbles. There’s no better way to decompress after a long day than a soak in the tub, but how much do you know about your private pool’s history? This ancient hygienic tool has come a long way since its invention more than 5,000 years ago. Here’s a quick rundown of the bathtub’s finest (and a few slightly embarrassing) moments.

3300 BC: The Great Bath of Mohenjo-daro is built in modern day Pakistan. Known as the “earliest public water tank of the ancient world,” the bath has a maximum depth of almost eight feet.

500 BC – 455 AD: The Roman Empire pioneers the custom of bathing daily. Public baths and private baths the size of modern-day indoor pools are common. People smell good.

500 – 1800: Bathing is completely ignored during the Dark Ages, and only done begrudgingly for centuries afterwards. Perfume and a strong threshold for B.O. rule the world.

1850: The first bathtub is installed in the White House.

1883: Kohler and Standard Sanitary Manufacturing Company (now American Standard) both begin producing and selling cast-iron bath tubs. Figuring that the trough is a more compelling product, Kohler advertises their tub as a horse trough that can be converted into a human bathtub by adding legs.

1909: William Howard Taft becomes stuck in the White House bathtub on his inauguration day and has a larger one installed.

1911: Kohler pioneers the “built-in” tub, which is easier to clean and more space-efficient.

1917: H.L. Mencken writes “A Neglected Anniversary,” a fictitious history of the bathtub that is accepted by many as factual. He performed the hoax to prove that people will believe anything. It worked! Confusion ensues for years to come as these “facts” are repeated across many media outlets, including one of the “facts” in this blog post – can you spot it?

1968: The Spa Whirlpool is invented by Jacuzzi. The “hot tub” is used as a therapeutic device for athletes and a relaxation device for everyone else.

1968: Thomas Merton, a well-known theological writer, dies while exiting a tub and touching an electric fan. Accidents like this stress the importance of installing ground fault interrupter outlets.

2008: A Kia commercial uses details from H.L. Mencken’s fictitious article without acknowledging the spurious nature of the facts.

Now that you know a little bit more about your bathtub, can you spot H. L. Mencken’s fake fact in this blog post?

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