Documentation of the first personal bath tub goes back to the Isle of Crete in ancient Greece. Wealthy Roman citizens bathed frequently in ornately decorated bathing rooms. Marble was generally used for the tubs and lead and bronze were used for the early plumbing systems. In the United States, regular bathing was not popular among the general public until around the late 1800s, when cast iron made its first appearance. The claw-foot cast iron tub was the first commercially produced bath tub in the United States.
The claw foot cast iron tub was first produced commercially in the United States in 1883, when Standard Sanitary Manufacturing Company began to manufacture them. They later became American Standard, the leader in bathroom fixtures today. Other companies also produced claw foot tubs, such as the Kohler Company and Crane. Early versions of the tub were actually primarily sold for other purposes, such as a hog scalder or a horse trough. The possible use for bathing was almost an afterthought.
As with most innovations, the first people to have a bath tub in their homes were the wealthy. It was a sign of status if you had a separate bathing room, complete with tub. The bath tub was usually elevated and set in the center of the room. Earlier innovations in plumbing and the establishment of the sanitary plumbing code made it possible to have a large tub indoors without getting water all over the home.
Claw foot cast iron tubs generally are oval in shape and have a rolled rim. The feet are usually quite decorative and sometimes mimic the feet of furniture from the period. Because the tub is cast iron, it is quite heavy and had to be set on reinforced floors. Often the tubs were found on the first floor of the house. On older tubs, there may be some chipping of the enamel coating. These can be refinished, but this should be done by a professional.
Cast iron tubs were generally quite large in size. They were usually built so that a full grown man could lie down in them. In Europe, the sitting tub was more popular; it was shorter in length, deeper and had a built-in ledge to sit on.
Because of the conductivity of cast-iron, they retain either heat or cold for long periods of time. Many people find them uncomfortable because in cold weather they can be quite cold, and take lots of hot water to heat up. Conversely, in warm environments, they retain heat and can become quite hot to the touch. Also, an antique cast iron tub will have to be retrofitted to accommodate modern plumbing, so you will most likely need a professional plumber to install a genuine, unaltered period tub in your home.
As modern materials were developed, the cast iron claw foot tub fell out of favor because of its great weight. Modern pedestal or single unit tubs were developed and made out of lighter materials that were easier to clean. However, the claw foot style remains popular as a reminder of a simpler time. Today, claw foot style tubs can be purchased in acrylic and fiberglass and don't require any special installation.
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