Urban Legends

Deadly Bathtubs

The Legend

The bathtub was not popular when it was first introduced to the United States in 1842 because it was believed that taking a bath was unhealthy.

Behind the Legend

The first bathtub to be installed in the United States was placed in the home of the grandfather of famed writer H.L. Mencken in 1842. The tubs were popular in Europe, and Mencken senior had become enamored of them during his trips abroad.

Unfortunately, only a few weeks after he began using his new tub, Mencken died. Medical professionals at the time quickly identified the taking of baths as the culprit. But despite what lore might have you believe, it was not the tub itself that was seen as the cause of death, but the water in the tub.

In the mid 1800s, water was generally brought up from wells or taken from the same local streams into which who knows what kinds of garbage was dumped and all manner of animals used as their private lavatory. While today's purified water might be described as "refreshing" or "crystal clear," a 19th century writer would have used terms more like "chunky" and "opaque." That the stuff was alive with forms of bacteria long since wiped off the face of the earth goes without saying.

So yes, people did resist taking baths in 19th century America. But, really, can we blame them?

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