History of the Bath/Shower

The (really brief!) History of the Bath (adapted from Wikipedia)

Bathing has always been practiced for personal hygiene, religious ritual, or therapeutic purposes.

Ancient Indians used elaborate practices for personal hygiene with three daily baths. These are recorded in the works called grihya sutras.

Ancient Greece utilized small bathtubs, wash basins, and foot baths for personal cleanliness. Luxurious alabaster bathtubs have been found dating from the mid-2nd millennium BC.

Ancient Rome developed a network of aqueducts to supply water to large towns and population centers with pipes that terminated in homes and at public wells and fountains.

In ancient Japan, sometime after adopting Buddhism and its principle of purity from China, the traditional bathhouses of the Buddhist temples became open to the general population. The first public bathhouse was mentioned in 1266. At the beginning of the Edo period (1603–1868), public bathhouses were very popular, especially for men, as “Bathing girls” were employed to scrub the guests’ backs and wash their hair, etc.

Spanish chronicles describe the daily bathing habits of the peoples of Mesoamerica as being done in fountains and rivers and other water to which they have access, without anything other than pure water…

In the Middle Ages, bathing was done in large, wooden tubs with a linen cloth laid in it to protect the bather from splinters.

The industry of soapmaking began on a small scale in the 1780s, with the establishment of a soap factory by James Keir and the marketing of high-quality, transparent soap in 1789 by Andrew Pears of London. It was in the mid-19th century, though, that the large-scale consumption of soap by the middle classes, anxious to prove their social standing, drove forward the mass production and marketing of soap

The earliest foam baths were foamed with soap, which practice came about shortly after soap flakes were marketed. The earliest recorded public use of  bath foam was in the original 1936 production of the play The Women. Foam baths became standard practice for bathing children after the mass marketing of products so positioned during the 1960s; the dubious claim was made that their normal use (diluted in a tubful of water) would clean skin well enough without soap or rubbing. My grandmother would never have condoned not scrubbing & scrubbing & scrubbing!

The (really brief!) History of the Shower

Little did our first folks know when they stood under waterfalls to get clean, that they were engaging in something that would become a daily ritual for most of the world. Although showering has in fact been around practically as long as the human race, it has gone in and out of popularity throughout history.

The Egyptian Pharaohs were one of the first groups to invest in showering as opposed to bathing in ponds or streams. Excavations of ancient tombs and homes show stalls with a defined area and jars for water. The Pharaoh stood in the stall while servants poured water over him from above. It was thought the Pharaohs were afraid of germs in the bath waters of other people and only pure water could be poured on them. Though Romans liked the baths, Greeks generally preferred standing under pipes which came from aqueducts with the belief that it washed the grime away and revitalized the skin (how astute of them!). Just as Rome affected all cultures with their beliefs in so many areas, they also affected the history of showering, as most of Europe took to bathing the Roman way and showers faded out of history.

In the mid-19th century another shower emerged that had slightly more success. When plumbing started becoming an indoor feature, the system of pipes and drains led designers to explore new ways to get clean. The first showers of the 1890’s era had a porcelain basin connected to a drain and a metal cage with multiple shower heads at different locations. A rubber curtain was pulled around the small appliance leaving a claustrophobic place to stand. An early shower was Ewarts Improved Spray Baths which held 10 nozzles to spray the entire body. It became known as the needle shower because the fine spray of water felt like needles against the skin. In the early 1900’s it was determined by doctors that women simply were not meant to endure that pain and showering was bad for them. The shower again went into decline.

The need to to conserve both water and time led to showers being determined to be a better way for many soldiers to get clean in a hurry during World War II. Barracks were eventually constructed to enable showers. They were so successful that after the war, schools and gymnasiums also began to utilize shower technology. But showers were still not commonly found in homes until later.
In the late 1940’s or so, western culture was still highly in favor of the bath as the optimum mode of cleaning. But two things happened that would change American views permanently. The first was a shift in how people felt about hygiene. For most of Europe and America, a weekly bath had been good enough. Before indoor plumbing the effort of preparing a bath was enough to make you only want to do it once a week. After indoor plumbing and water heaters became popular it was more convenient, but still bathing once a week was habit. Eventually, ideas about bacteria, disease and cleanliness became part of the community of knowledge and people wanted to bathe more often. But taking a bath daily still took a lot of time. The second factor in the shower’s success was those soldiers returning from World War II. Showers were the main form of cleanliness in the barracks and they came home still wanting the quicker ease of a shower. As with so many things from the war, what was created for the soldiers found it’s way into the mainstream. And the rest is “history”!