Where It All Began: A Short History Of The Modern Bathtub

(866) 399-8827 | (718-238-5421) | Brooklyn and the Greater New York City

The invention of bathtubs goes back a long time. Archeologists unearthed ruins on the Island of Crete and found the first pedestal tubs. These tubs were made of hard pottery and were nearly five feet long and 3 feet wide. The shape of these tubs resembled the modern claw-foot bathtub invented in the 19th century.

Let’s dive a bit more into the history of bathtubs and learn where it all began and how we got to the modern ones used today.

The Roman Empire (500 AD)

Personal health and sanitation were one of the biggest priorities of the Roman Empire. The major cities under Roman rule had a proper sewage system that comprised bronze and lead pipes and had marble bathtubs and fixtures.

Public baths were common under Roman rule. These baths resembled large swimming pools and also had sauna rooms. There were separate bathtubs with warm water, hot water, and cold water. There were also baths for the elite classes which included smaller bathtubs for private baths.

In the modern era, the concept of hot water baths and scented oils during baths came from the Romans who used scents to keep their public baths smelling pleasant and fresh, and separate pools for hot water to help people relax.

The Plague and Europe

With the Roman Empire coming to an end, sanitation and bathing took a strong hit. Plumbing and public baths were almost non-existent, even in major cities. People who needed baths and sanitation would go to nearby river streams and estuaries.

Poor sanitation and the lack of a sewage system in place lead to the poor personal health of the people, especially in larger cities that had higher footfall. Bathing in the river streams and estuaries also contributed to these poor health conditions as the water was contaminated and it was the only source of fresh water used for cooking and cleaning homes.

The Colosseum, situated in Rome, Italy

These poor sanitary conditions continued until the Bubonic Plague, also referred to as the Black Death, hit Europe and wiped out over one-third of the population. With so many deaths, countries and cities tried to rebuild but the labor, skills, and knowledge lost was difficult to replace.

Europe continued without a proper plumbing system for over a decade until the 19th century, when the focus shifted back to proper sanitary systems and public health. The first fully functioning toilet was invented by Sir John Harrington. His invention were made public through a book he released which helped a lot in fast-tracking the development of toilets and bathtubs using his ideas.

First Bathtub in the US

In the US, two breakthroughs fast-tracked the integration of bathtubs into the lives of people. In the early 1800s, cast iron pipes were imported from foreign locations which lead to an improvement in plumbing systems. After that, the first bathtub was invented in 1883 by John Michael Kohler in Wisconsin.

Kohler used a horse trough made of cast iron. He then attached his feet to it and covered the trough with enamel to give it a smooth finish. His company, named The Kohler Company, built multiple units according to Kohler’s bathtub design.

With the end of World War 1, there was a boom in construction in the United States. The installation of clawfoot bathtubs and modern fixtures increased. The Crane Company was a major supplier of modern bathroom fixtures, like faucets and sinks.

A traditional, white-colored clawfoot bathtub

The Evolution of Clawfoot Bathtubs

Clawfoot bathtubs originated from Kohler’s design of the bathtub he made using the horse trough. It became popular in Europe as well, especially for upper class people who had at least 1 in their homes. However, even after a surge in demand, only 1 percent of the homes in America had a clawfoot bathtub by 1921 because rural homes still preferred outhouses for sanitation and personal cleaning.

With the passing of time, these claw-foot tubs started going out of trend when modern, built-in bathtubs came into the market. These bathtubs were initially called drop-in bathtubs and were a staple of a modern homes from 1935-1960. The modern design is much easier to clean, and maintain, and provides color and design options to match their bathroom interior. It’s made of fiberglass and acrylic materials.

However, going out of trend doesn’t necessarily mean white, elegant stand-alone bathtubs are not a preferred choice of many people today. Although the modern, stand-alone bathtubs are not similar to the old, clawfoot bathtubs of the Victorian era, they’re based on that design and improved in terms of quality. The concept still originates from Kohler’s design.

Types of Bathtubs Used Today

With modern technology advancing, bathtubs continue to evolve and improve. Today, there are multiple bathtub design options available on the market. Some of these options include:

  • Free-standing bathtubs
  • Clawfoot bathtubs
  • Drop-in bathtubs
  • Alcove bathtubs
  • Corner bathtubs
  • Walk-in bathtubs
  • Jetted bathtubs
  • Japanese soaking bathtubs

Unlike before, bathtubs these days are made from different materials based on their design and functional requirements. Some of the most common bathtubs materials include:

  • Fiberglass bathtubs
  • Cast polymer bathtubs
  • Cast iron bathtubs with porcelain enamel coating
  • Acrylic bathtubs

A modern-day bathroom with an alcove bathtub

Modern-day bathtubs are extremely durable and last longer compared to older bathtubs. It might collect stains over the years due to soap and bodily residue sticking to its surface, but you can easily get it reglazed to give it a new, fresh look.

Reglazing Plus Inc offers bathtub reglazing at affordable prices in Brooklyn, NYC. We also provide bathroom remodeling and refinishing. We can give your old, gloomy bathrooms a new look without having to renovate them completely. Reach out to us and book an appointment with our consultation team to get your bathroom inspected for remodeling or refinishing immediately.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top