The American Bathroom Takes Shape—Nineteenth Century and Beyond

As American cities became more congested and as the number of backyard privies near water supplies increased, the issue of sanitation grew more acute. Yellow fever epidemics erupted in the United States, particularly in New York, in the mid-nineteenth century, prompting physicians to declare publicly that unsanitary conditions were the root of the disease, and they asked that taxes be levied to develop a sewer system to remedy the problem. Many larger U. S. cities began to look
into developing safe water supplies and disposal systems. As a result of this awareness, the nine­teenth century brought many changes in how people viewed personal hygiene, as well as changes in the infrastructure and technologies that made the home bathroom a reality for the masses...



Colonial America also did not have the luxury of a public water supply or sewer system, so the disposal of waste was as primitive as it had been for centuries. Outdoor privies were built over large pits. In some cases, the pit was deep enough to reach the water table, which allowed waste to gradually dissolve and wash away, possibly into a stream or the well next door. Other families emptied their chamber pots into the backyard. When the accumulation became large enough, it needed to be hauled away. As in earlier times, for some lazier households in cities, the streets became the collection area.

Water Closet

The first modern water closets in America most likely came from England. The term "water closet" developed as water was used in the waste disposal process...


Hot Water

The task of supplying hot water to the bath became easier with new innovations, one of which was the cast iron stove. A water vat was located at the back of the stove. As the family baked and prepared meals, the stove heated water for baths and other uses.

Heaters were eventually attached to the portable tub so that hot water did not need to be carried. They were later attached to the permanently installed tub, and eventually the hot water came from a single source in the home, the water heating system most homes use today.

The Privy

Facilities for toileting have also changed over time...


The Bathtub

Bathing for the middle class during this time usually involved a portable bathtub placed in the kitchen (see Figure 1.2)—typically the warmest room in the house with a nearby heat source for water. The fireplace used to cook the family meals also heated water for the bath. Eventually fire­places were built with a water reservoir, making hot water more accessible. Once the bathtub was filled, it usually served the entire family, with the dirtiest family member going last. These tubs were also used for other purposes such as laundry.

Bathing in private was very limited at this time. Wealthy households, who generally used servants to carry water for the bath and dispose of it afterward, had the luxury of locating bathtubs in the privacy of their bedroom...


The Middle Ages

With the fall of the Roman Empire, the bath was no longer an important part of daily life and disappeared for centuries. Through the Middle Ages, the fifth to fifteenth centuries, bathing was not a common activity and little attention was given to personal hygiene. Much of the decline was due to physicians who thought bathing was harmful to health, and clerics—in particular the Puri­tans—who thought nakedness and bathing to be indecent and sinful. The spread of diseases and the tightening of church doctrine eventually closed down communal baths in Europe.

Sanitation in general suffered during the Middle Ages. Few, if any, advances were made in devices to collect waste. Without a sewer system or other disposal methods, chamber pots were usually emptied out the windows...



The typical North American bathroom, as we know it today, has a relatively short history. The early "bath room" or "bath house" was strictly for bathing. It was not until the mid-nineteenth century that one room in the home included all personal hygiene activities in one place. However, some of the activities and rituals currently enjoyed in our baths had their origins centuries ago.

Early Civilizations and the Bath

Although evidence indicates that ancient Egyptians and the residents of Crete had bathing facilities, the bath was taken to new levels by early Greek, Minoan, and Roman civilizations,
which embraced it as a way to escape the stresses of everyday life. Most people found the ex­perience so soothing that they typically bathed daily in public bath houses...


Bathroom History, Research, and Trends

Although the bathroom has changed throughout history, it has always reflected the prevailing cultural attitudes toward hygiene, cleanliness, privacy, relaxation, socializing, and even morality and religion. The development of our modern bath has also been dependent upon evolution in public infrastructure, technology, codes, and other policies.

Today the bathroom is not only the center for personal hygiene, but also a place for relaxation. Research continues to contribute important knowledge related to designing bathrooms for func­tion and safety. Since many bathrooms are being downsized because homes are shrinking in size, the efficient use of space becomes more important than ever...


Guidelines, Codes, Standards

Bathrooms in the home continue to change as new products are introduced to the market, new standards have an impact on energy and water consumption, and people change in their abilities, preferences, and desires. Therefore this book needs to be updated periodically and that is what the National Kitchen and Bath Association has undertaken in conjunction with John Wiley and Sons. Some of the changes include expanded information on sustainability and environmental is­sues and more information about universal design, including applications for a variety of users. To put the subject of bathroom planning into perspective, in chapter 1 we included information on historical and consumer trends, and research on bath design and planning...