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bathtubThe BathTub: Archimedes, Eureka, The Bath And Beyond
by Marjorie Dorfman

When did people first start bathing? Was it a private affair or were all welcome on alternate Saturday nights? Where did the idea of a bathtub come from? These and other cleansing questions will be addressed below. Grab your soap and sit down for a read. (Don’t turn on the shower, whatever you do. It will defeat the purpose.)

Archimedes, the greet Greek mathematician discovered his Principle of Floating Bodies and possibly his own true self while bathing. So elated was he to discover that the amount of water that overflowed in the tub was proportional to the amount of his body that was submerged, that he ran naked through the streets of downtown Syracuse shouting "Eureka" (I have found it!) The original concept of bathing, however, had nothing to do with finding things, proportions or even removing dirt. It was steeped in religious ritual and intended as ablution, which means to remove the invisible stains contracted by touching the dead, and by contact with murder, persons of inferior caste or disease. (This term should not be confused with abolition, which is a more political term involving the elimination of politicians who treat their constituents like slaves.) Archimedes Eureka!

When in ancient Rome, one bathed as the Romans did, as they were the first to use baths as a means of ensuring physical cleanliness. The Thermae, or public baths, were a social meeting place for men and women although they never bathed together. The baths were not free and children weren’t seen or heard for any price, as they were not permitted at all. At one time, there were as many as 900 public baths in ancient Rome, although none ever beheld the bathtub, which would not be invented until many centuries later.

The baths had hot and cold pools, towels, steam rooms, saunas, exercise rooms and hair cutting salons. They even had reading rooms and libraries. Roman bathing was an elaborate ritual that lasted for hours and was carried out at approximately the same time of day following an elaborate preparation process. The first stop was the unctuarium, where oil was rubbed into the skin by slaves followed by the tepidarium or warm room, where bathers would converse about the fluctuations of their empire with other tepids. The next stop was the caldarium, similar to a Turkish bath, hot and steamy. Here perspiration occurred and skin was scraped with a strigil, a curved metal tool, and (probably the forefather of the squeegee). Attendants served snacks and drinks and then came one more dip in the calidarium and a quick dip in the frigidarium (cold bath). The baths were as much of a social event as the theatre or chariot races, a far cry from our concept of bathrooms and privacy today.

The need to be clean has not always been as pressing as we know it to be today. During the Middle Ages the average person bathed about once a month; royalty even less frequently. (Castles were cold, dark and probably had few towels or bathrobes.) It is a wonder that people could even stand next to each other during those times, especially during the warmer months, without passing out, much less managing to propagate themselves into the Renaissance. The United States today is one of the few countries where most citizens consider a daily bathing to be a necessity. Today, that bathing is usually a shower while a bath has become synonymous with leisure time, relaxation and pampering.

bath and showerNotwithstanding the course of history, we move now to 19th century America when in 1883 a man by the name of John Michael Kohler came up with the idea of a modern bathtub. As the owner of the Sheboygan Union Iron and Steel Foundry, Kohler produced cast-iron and steel implements for farmers in the area, castings for the city’s furniture factories and ornamental iron pieces that included hitching posts, cemetery crosses, urns and settees. He took a product into his line called a "horse trough/hog scalder." He got the idea to heat it up to 1700 degrees (930 degrees Celsius) and "sprinkle it with some enamel powder." He featured it in his catalogue and told potential customers that it was "a horse trough/hog scalder which, when furnished with four legs, will serve as a bathtub." In 1911, Kohler invented the "one-piece built-in bathtub with apron."

Still, there is some controversy over who really is responsible for the first American bathtub as there is some evidence it was a part of our history long before the 1880s. In 1752 Benjamin Franklin is reputed to have imported the very first bathtub. He studied it and like the true inventor and innovator that he was, created a new one that was more comfortable. As the demand for soap grew within Colonial America, Franklin was reputed to have spent much of his time "reading and writing while soaking". (It’s a good thing he didn’t come up with idea for electricity while bathing. Consider and shudder at those ramifications!) More than one source also claims that Napoleon Bonaparte (of pastry fame) was taking a bath in 1803 when his brothers forced themselves into his room and told him how angry they were about his sale of Louisiana to the barbaric Americans. He was said to have splashed hot water onto one of his brothers, causing a nearby valet to "faint dead away."

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I am an excellent housekeeper. Every time I leave a man I keep his house.
Zsa Zsa Gabor

I will not vacuum until Sears invents one I can ride on.
Roseanne Barr

Don't miss this excellent book:

The Bathtub Yoga & Relaxation Book: Yoga in the Bath for Energy, Vitality & Pleasure

by Marjorie Jaffe, Barbara Isenberg

The Bathtub Yoga & Relaxation Book

Learn how to combine a relaxing bath with stress-reducing yoga for the ultimate restorative experience. Beautiful, full color presentations of water yoga and stretches, breathing exercises, and meditations help you discover an easy way to relieve tension and maintain fitness

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