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The BathTub: Archimedes, Eureka, The Bath And Beyond
by Marjorie Dorfman
page 2


head in a tubThe question of which American president was the first to introduce a bathtub into The White House has several answers, most of which can be considered correct, depending on your point of view. (After reading, pick one from column A, B, C or D). Millard Fillmore (1850-1853) is most often given credit for the first tub, which he supposedly had installed in 1851. At the core of the debate surrounding Fillmore is a story by the prominent journalist, H.L. Mencken, which appeared in the December 28, 1917 edition of The New York Evening Mail. It related the tale of a mahogany and sheet lead tub built in 1842 by Adam Thompson of Cincinnati, Ohio. Fillmore was said to have inspected the tub while visiting the town as Vice President in 1850, and was so impressed that he ordered it for the White House after succeeding Zachary Taylor to the Presidency later that year. Mencken later explained that he concocted the tale as a diversion for a country suffering from the ravages of World War I. That admission led to the story being subsequently referred to as "Mencken’s Hoax." The article continued to be printed as fact, however, long after the author’s confession.

soaking James Madison (1809-1817) is said to have had a bathtub installed in 1814, but the water had to be heated on a stove and carried in a bucket. The tub got even hotter when in August of that year the British set fire to the White House. It was Dolly Madison’s cool thinking that saved the priceless Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington from burning up in that fire. (Perhaps her husband was too busy looking for a towel to quickly dry himself!) The next tub was purchased by the next president, James Monroe (1817-25). It was a tin cylinder that cost twenty or thirty dollars. A "wash bin" is mentioned in an 1825 inventory list, lending speculation to the laundry being scrubbed by day and the President by night. Andrew Jackson (1829-1837) modernized the White House in 1834 and introduced "fresh spring water" into the cold and shower baths. According to the Portsmouth Ohio Times, Abraham Lincoln "holds the distinction of being the first president to splash his way to cleanliness in a White House tub, the first one having been installed during his presidency." The 1932 article does not list its source, citing only a water consumption report.
rubber ducky
Truth be told, the very first bathtub at the White House was the Potomac River. Just who discontinued the practice of outdoor bathing and when (weather permitting, of course) is a source of some contention. If the beat goes on for Sonny and Cher, it continues here as well. Some claim that Lucy Hayes, wife of Rutherford Hayes (1877-1881) was the first first lady to insist on a bathtub. Lending credibility to this claim is Mrs. Hayes’ reputation for having a domineering personality. In a 1934 Saturday Evening Post article, Chester A. Arthur (1881-1885) is credited with having introduced plumbing to the White House as his "two bathrooms were converted from virtually public baths into private ones."

Some presidential anecdotes worth mentioning include William Howard Taft (1909-13) and Harry S. Truman. Taft weighed 330 pounds and was far too heavy for a standard sized tub. He had one custom made for his extra large frame and after it was made, four men fit inside the tub for a photograph. President Truman’s tub had a hidden message carved in glass on the backside, which read: "In this tub bathes the man whose heart is always clean and serves his people truthfully."

And so my very clean friends, this impromptu and highly controversial study must draw to a conclusion. Perhaps there are no definite answers here, but if you had a good time, there’s some chance you may have forgotten the questions. I would stay longer to chat, but I hear the water running and its calling to me. It’s just hot enough. And so, ta, ta.
swim bath
To the bathtub. May its truth always ring free and true.


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A wonderful selection
of furniture
and cabinets!



Bathroom Furniture


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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