Skip to main content

The First Bathtub

May 2024
1min read

While we are redressing the wrong we did Cincinnati, we will give that city the credit it deserves by reprinting this interesting note, which appeared in a recent issue of the “Gilcrease Gazette,” the newsletter of the Thomas Gilcrease Institute of American History and Art in Tulsa, Oklahoma: Portable bathtubs were in use in the early 1800’s, but they were not placed in a “bathroom” as we know it today. Following the English custom, in the larger homes, these sometimes strange devices were carried to the sleeping room when a bath was desired. Water had to be carried for such tubs and, of course, they had to be emptied by hand. There was no standard shape or style, and more often than not, the bathtub was simply the family washtub.

One authority has said that the first bathtub into which water was piped was installed in a home in Cincinnati in 1842 by one Adam Thompson. It was a large coflfinlike affair made of mahogany and lined with sheet lead. It has been written that he gave a party for his friends so that they might examine this extraordinary invention. Some of the guests were so fascinated with it that they promptly took a bath in the new tub.

It soon caught the public’s fancy, but the tub had a hard time with the legal and medical professions. Some authorities considered it a useless luxury and a rather heavy tax was placed on it. Physicians disapproved of it because it encouraged too frequent bathing which endangered one’s health. In some cities, laws were passed regarding the bathtub. In i845, Boston passed an ordinance that no one could take a bath in the new tub without the consent and advice of a physician. In 1843, because of the growing popularity of the tub, Philadelphia passed a bill to prohibit bathing between November i and March 15. Various cities imposed heavy water rates on the owners of the new bathtubs.

The first bathtub in the White House was installed in 1850 by President Millard Fillmore soon after he saw the first tub in Cincinnati. President Fillmore, it is said, tested the new tub and was so taken with this remarkable invention that he ordered one installed in a special room of the White House.

(The above was condensed from an undated and unidentified clipping from the files of the Gilcrease Library. Any resemblance to actual fact is strictly incidental!)

We hope you enjoy our work.

Please support this magazine of trusted historical writing, now in its 75th year, and the volunteers that sustain it with a donation to American Heritage.

Donate