I start this article with a confession of sorts. I’m no historian. There, I’ve said it. However, I do have an interest in history; especially when its a subject I have an appreciation for. In this case, it's finding and writing about the history of the hot tub.
If you’re like me, you’ve sat in a lovely bubbling hot tub and have relaxed. You enjoyed that feeling of warm bubbling water swishing around those aches and pains, stresses and worries, and washed them away. You may not have wandered at those moments about how that hot tub came about.
Without history, a hot tub would not exist. At some point, someone has said: “that pool of hot water looks inviting”. Another person at some point must have also said “adding bubbles to that hot pool of water would be an excellent idea”.
Both these questions; plus other questions such as adding a filtration system; have been thought and acted on. For me, and hopefully, you, knowing this history will give a better appreciation of the pleasure and relaxation you get next time you're sitting in your own spa or hot tub.
Comical side note. If you search for the history of the hot tub you will see listings for the film Hot Tub Time Machine 1 and 2. I’ve watched the 1st one myself and although interesting - there is nothing to do with the history of hot tubs...
Before we begin our journey through time. Let us set out a definition of a hot tub. This will allow us to focus on just this and hopefully not go off on any tangent subjects.
On Wikipedia, they define a hot tub as:
A hot tub is a large tub or small pool full of water used for hydrotherapy, relaxation or pleasure. Some have powerful jets for massage purposes. Hot tubs are sometimes also known as spas or by the trade name Jacuzzi.
This is the definition that this history will be based on. A small or large pool full of water used for hydrotherapy, relaxation or pleasure. This article may also touch on the subject of water jets, as these are an integral part of today's hot tubs.
However, the first focus will be about the use of pools and their use for relaxation.
Although I didn't ready or find any articles that mentioned dates; the consensus of the research done suggests that the earliest hot tubs were calderas in which hot stones were placed to heat the water.
Looking through the info, it is thought that the Egyptians used baths for therapeutic purposes as early as 2000 B.C. Evidence of actual spa construction also exists from Phraortes, King of Media, in 600 B.C.
All this being suggested, the earliest forms of hot tubs were simply a caldera in which sizzling stones had been placed to heat the water; as mentioned above.
The ancient Greeks believe in the therapeutic benefits of hot bath and mineral waters. It is said that they indulged in the practice in bathing in the ocean for medicinal uses. Although this was largely reserved for the wealthy classes.
Soon, it went on to say, the concept came out to the public in the form of public baths whereupon they rapidly became worship centres for resident deities.
Looking into these times, during the Homeric times (said to be the Greek dark ages), bathing was primarily used for bathing.
Though, by the time of Hippocrates (460-370 BC), bathing was considered to be more than just a simple hygienic measure. It was considered to be healthy and beneficial for most diseases.
It was said that Hippocrates proposed the hypothesis that the cause of all diseases lay in an imbalance of the bodily fluids. So, to regain a balance; a change of habits and environment was advised. This included bathing, perspiration, walking, and massages. The beginning of a personal spa so to speak.
Even today there are vestiges that still remain of Greek hydrotherapy. For example, The Ancient Spa of Therma in Ikaria: The island of Ikaria has an abundance of the highly therapeutic radio- energized springs.
These are regarded as the best in the world. Historically it is said that Therma in Ikaria has been a very popular place particularly for hydrotherapy ever since the 4th century BC.
There are basically 3 main therapeutic springs in Therma. The hot springs have curative properties and can heal a variety of illness like rheumatism, arthrology, arthritis, neuralgia as well as infertility.
As a side note, Therma derives its name from the pre-historic town of Thermae.
In the past, Thermae used to be a seaside town. Built on a small cape and was one of the most popular spas. The remains of wrecked marble bathtubs along with a pre-historic aqueduct that has been unearthed from this area bear ample testimony of the place's popularity in the ancient times.
We've talked much about Greece and the hot tub; however, in 737AD Japan's first "onsen" (hot spring) opened near Izumo.
Then centuries later the first "ryoken" (inns) were built, offering fine food, accommodations, Zen gardens, outdoor baths and indoor soaking tubs called cypress ofuro.
As early as 1000AD in Finland Saunas began appearing. This included a prescription of sauna-induced sweating, icy lake plunges, and plenty of beer or vodka.
I think many people have heard of the proverbial "Roman Bath Tub", which was a large tub in the newer and more expensive homes. They took the lead from the Greeks, Romans embraced bathing as a regular regiment for health.
Opposed to what the Greeks who used Spas, as practice following intense Gymnastics, the Roman Spas also had a medicinal emphasis. They were used largely as recuperation centres for any wounded military soldiers.
Though, these recuperation centres were also included as therapeutic centres for healthy soldiers.
The application of water to the ailing body was a general practice among the physicians in the ancient world. The Spa treatments consisted of the application of water to afflicted parts of the body, the immersion of the whole body in the water (usually for rheumatic and urogenital diseases), and the drinking excessive quantities of water.
There were 3 primary times of baths in Rome during these times. These consisted of baths at home (balnea), some private baths (balnea privata), and the public baths (balnea publica) which were run by the state.
When the aqueducts where added, the concept of the public bath exploded to glorious buildings with a capacity for thousands of people. Un-Surprisingly the consumption of water leapt during this period from roughly 12 litres to 1400 litres of water per person per day. The biggest consumption was for the baths.
For the Romans, this practice was so ingrained that the Roman Legions built their own baths at mineral and thermal springs during their long occupations in newly conquered lands. Examples are found all over Europe including here in the UK.
After the fall of the Roman Empire in 476 and the rise of Christianity; it was widely believed that among the common population that the cleanliness regiment went to the wayside. The Church viewed that the practice of bathing was a prelude to forbidden behaviour; all the naughty things that happened in those Roman baths.
Georges Duby, in an article in A History of Private Life, suggests:
Bathing and grooming were regarded with suspicion by moralists, however, because they unveiled the attractions of the body. Bathing was said to be a prelude to sin, and in the penitential of Burchard of Worms we find a full catalog of the sins that ensued when men and women bathed together... Lambert of Ardres, the historian of the counts of Guines, describes the young wife of the ancestor of his hero swimming before the eyes of her household in a pond below the castle, but he is careful to indicate that she is wearing a modest white gown. ... [Public baths] were suspect because they were too public; it was better wash one's body in the privacy of one's own home. Scrupulous, highly restrictive precautions were taken in . . . monasteries. At Cluny the custom required the monks to take a full bath twice a year, at the holidays of renewal, Christmas and Easter; but they were exhorted not to uncover their pudenda." (p. 525)
Bernard Rudofsky, in a speech reprinted in Interior Design, gives a more cheerful picture:
"In the Middle Ages, bathing scenes woven into Gothic tapestries leave no doubt that bathing was indulged with equal gusto by prince and pauper. In the morning, the opening of the public baths was announced by the sound of trumpets and drums, whereupon the good burghers proceeded to them naked--a precaution against theft. For the stay-at-home a wooden tub was brought to the bed-chamber and filled with hot water. If the chronicles are to be believed, the wealthy had elaborate installations with pipes made of gold and silver, and one Heinrich von Veldecke, an epic poet, sang the praises of a golden tub. In the spring, bathing parties would move to outdoor pools and ornate basins, amid statuary and flowering trees. Dark ages indeed!"
In Ireland, baths were considered a major part of hospitality, and to not offer a guest the opportunity to bathe, or at least wash hands and feet, was an insult.
Irish baths, in comparison to your current image of a hot tub or bath, were filled with cold water and then heated by dropping rocks, heated in a fire, into the water.
Much like today, bathing in tubs was done in private homes, in monasteries, and in communal bath-houses, which were very common in cities. It is said that in Paris in the late 13th century; bathhouses employed criers to announce when the water was hot. We probably supply a similar job when calling the person(s) we've just run a hot bath for.
In the 15th and 16th centuries, bath-houses in Western Europe had mixed clientele, and by the end of our period of study, it is said that the 'stews' had the unsavoury reputation as houses of ill-repute.
That said, legal history suggests that ordinary public bath-houses were often segregated by gender, or different times or days were restricted for each gender.
Regardless, from the 13th century onwards, baths gradually came into re-use, particularly in southern Europe under the influence of the Moors. Public baths were rebuilt and the entrance was usually free.
The baths were often crowded and people bathed for hours, sometimes days in the same bath.
During the early 16th century, the image of the public bath was still on the decline, for they were perceived as sources of contagion, such as syphilis, plague, and leprosy, and the baths became dangerous meeting places for political and religious dissidents.
The lack of firewood and the poor economy didn't help. General upkeep of a public bath was too extensive to be supported in such an economic environment. That being said, the gentry continued to visit the baths, although they preferred to go to baths from natural sources with warm, mineral water instead of the public baths.
During the Renaissance, spas change back to medicinal purposes. Several famous Italian doctors recovered lost texts on medical treatment from the ancient world, and the value of balneology as a therapeutic modality was reconsidered.
It is also said that during this time the first attempts to analyse the waters for their mineral components were made. The results were said to be often controversial.
In 1571, Bacci published De thermis, in which taking the waters was not a matter of empiricism, but a sound discipline. According to Bacci, essential to the cure was a quiet orderly life in pleasant surroundings with good food and wine, and a maximum of comfort. Therefore, he argued, the baths would do no good to the poor. Other, practical obstacles also restrained the poor from attending the baths: they had no time for leisure and the baths and mud were usually not free.
Minardo published in 1594 a compendium on the two baths of Caldiero in Verona. The first bath was used for drinking and bathing, the second was used by bathers with skin conditions, for bathing of animals, and for washing off therapeutic mud.
Seventy eight conditions that might benefit from these baths were listed. The treatments consisted of drinking cures, bathing, purging, and application of mud. It was advised to follow this type of treatment for 15 days, and repeat it every year.
In the 1940's the hot tub started to appear in the USA. This could be thought as the start down the road to what we think as a hot tub, or inflatable hot tub; today.
The reason for that is, the original hydrotherapy jet was invented by the Jacuzzi brothers in 1956. Reading a little history on the Jacuzzi website, they came up with the idea of "why not treat a family member’s arthritis with a hydrotherapy pump". So, the Jacuzzi brothers invented a pump and we have to thank them for introducing our circulation of water and bubbles in today's enjoyable hot tubs.
In the 1970's fibreglass shell hot tubs started to appear and were soon superseded by cast acrylic shells.
That brings us up to today where we now have acrylic shell hot tubs and inflatable hot tubs; the latter being cheaper, more portable and the main focus of this site.
I hope you enjoyed our little jaunt through history. There are most likely areas and time of hot tubs that we have not got recorded in our history books.
For example, I am sure many stories were missed about people bathing in hot springs. What ever the history; we can be thankful that today we can enjoy a relaxing dip in our own private hot tub. Sharing it, and all those diseases from the dark ages, would not be a nice thing.
So, reading this, I hope you appreciate your hot tub and enjoy it that little bit more.