From the portable tin tub, to the enameled cast-iron claw foot, to the solid porcelain bathtub that became the hallmark of a high-end bathroom in the 1920s, the bathtub of today has certainly evolved, and in some respects has come full circle, too. Here’s a look at the bathtub from its humble beginnings to its advent as a major focal point and design statement in modern bathrooms of the 21st century.
A Brief History of the Bathtub
The earliest plumbing systems ever discovered date back nearly 6000 years to the Indus River Valley in ancient India. Forward another 3000 years to the Isle of Crete where the first personal bathtub was unearthed – made of hardened pottery, its shape resembling the 19th century clawfoot tub.
The early Romans championed the daily ritual of bathing and raised the bar for acceptable sanitation, but after the collapse of the Roman Empire and descent into the Dark Ages, sanitation virtually disappeared until the Bubonic plague forced attempts at improving sanitation.
Before indoor plumbing, bathtubs were portable accessories: large but relatively light containers that could be pulled out of storage for temporary use. The typical mid-19th-century bathtub was a shell of sheet copper or zinc. More upscale homes had lead tubs with wooden enclosures that were sometimes equipped with early water heating mechanisms.
As running water became more common in the latter 19th century, bathtubs became more prevalent and less portable. Almost simultaneously in 1883, both the Standard Sanitary Manufacturing Company (now American Standard) and Kohler began the process of enameling cast iron bathtubs to form a smooth interior surface.
Over time, the once popular clawfoot tub morphed into the built-in porcelain tub that is still a bathroom standard today. This enclosed style afforded much easier maintenance of the bathroom and with the emergence of colored ceramic, more design options for the homeowner. It was Crane Company that introduced colored bathroom fixtures to the US market in 1928.
Bathtub Styles Today
While the built-in bathtub is still very common, the style preference for freestanding tubs (including clawfoot) in a myriad of shapes and sizes, and fashioned from any number of materials, is strong. Bathtubs have become design statements and are often of the focal point for luxurious master suites with luxurious spa-like bathrooms. Here is a look at a few beautiful bathtubs that just might have you yearning for bathroom remodel!