A Short History of the Bath

Enjoying a hot, steamy bath after a long day at work is a luxury that’s been enjoyed by people for centuries. For the Romans, baths were a way of life. By the early fifth century, there were as many as 900 baths in Rome alone. However, bathing in the Roman Empire was not the private activity as we know it today. Baths were a central part of the community, places where Romans gathered to eat, listen to a philosopher, exercise or even get their teeth cleaned. The Japanese still practice communal bathing in onsens, or hot springs.

When the Roman Empire fell, however, the aqueducts they used to supply water to the baths fell into disrepair and went unused for centuries. While public bathhouses existed in the Middle Ages, Christian scrutiny of communal bath practices and fear of the Black Death put an end to communal bathing. Though baths moved inside, a shortage of wood for heating water meant a scarcity of baths for common folk.  The fear of bathing gradually faded away as the Renaissance ushered in greater scientific knowledge and awareness about disease and by the 1700s, bathing was once again considered to be healthy. In colonial America, bathing still largely meant sponging off, though wooden tubs were occasionally used for a thorough wash.

Toward the end of the 18th century in Williamsburg, St. George Tucker installed the first copper tub recorded by the city. It wasn’t until the 1840s in America that architects added a specific room called “bath-room” to house plans, which meant that fixed plumbing would eventually be installed in that room. However, for a very long time, well into the 1920s in rural places, tubs were moved into the kitchen and filled with warm water. Everyone would take turns getting a bath, starting with the father. Harriet Beecher Stowe, who wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin in the 19th century, dreamed that one day Americans might have one bathroom for every three or four bedrooms.

In 2012, 30% of new homes built had 3 or more bathrooms, a luxury American colonists could hardly have imagined. But when bathrooms were fewer in number and hot water was not as plentiful, bathing was a luxury. That luxury is reflected in the beautiful craftsmanship of the clawfoot tub, which made its debut in 1883. Even many modern bathrooms today proudly feature the classic design of the clawfoot tub as the focal point of a newly remodeled bathroom. And now that showers have become so commonplace in our fast-moving culture, taking a bath is once again a luxury that few of us take the time to indulge in.

If your bathroom makes you want to get in and get out as quickly as possible, it might be time for a Refinish First bathroom makeover so you can once again enjoy the luxury of a relaxing bath. There’s nothing quite like sinking into an old clawfoot tub filled with bubbles. However, if that antique tub looks as old as it is, think about refinishing it with Refinish First. We can restore your antique clawfoot tub to its former glory. Give us a call. Your bubble bath’s waiting.


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