Blast from the Past: Vintage Bathtub Folds Up Like a Murphy Bed|
NAHB HouseKeys is introducing yet another fascinating feature, Blast from the Past. Here we'll explore floor plans, furnishings and products from history. Our first feature — the amazing and incredible, folding...bathtub?
Innovation has always been a watchword for home builders. Be it the latest in luxurious bathroom furnishings and kitchen appliances or closet organizers and skylights, home buyers want the newest and the best. And America’s home builders have always strived to provide it.
But that wasn’t always as easy as it is today. Lacking the International Builders’ Show®, cable television networks solely devoted to housing and home building and, of course, the Internet, how did builders learn about innovative new products? One important source was the Manufacturer and Builder magazine, now archived in cyberspace by the Cornell University library, which showcased a folding bathtub and water heater in its February 1891 issue.
Similar in concept to a Murphy bed, the folding bathtub and heater was described as an “ingenious domestic sanitary invention.” When closed, the author said, it looked like “a wardrobe of pleasing appearance” and was a “compact arrangement” occupying a 4-by-3-by-2-foot space. Inside were “all of the essentials for a comfortable bath” — the tub, the water heater and a porcelain-enclosed space for drying towels. In comparison, today’s standard bathtub is larger at about five feet long.
The cabinet was designed to be attached to a wall, and after the cabinet was opened and the tub was lowered to the floor, a circular gas jet would heat water for the tub. Emptying the tub involved using a rubber hose to funnel the bath water into the household waste-pipe.
While it probably wouldn’t appeal to today’s consumers, the folding bathtub and water heater concept did appear to appeal to people of that era.
An advertisement for a similar bathtub made by the Mosely Folding Bath Tub Company of Chicago reprinted in the online Encyclopedia of Chicago notes that the product was designed to put “the comforts of a modern bathroom within the reach of every family.” According to the ad, the folding bathtub apparently won first prize in an 1892 competition sponsored by the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic Association. It was also displayed at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. And just for the record, at least one survives to this day. It’s on eBay.
Courtesy of Cornell University Library, Making of America Digital Collection, “A Folding Bath Tub and Heater.” The Manufacturer and Builder Magazine. Volume 23, Issue 2, February 1891 pp. 42.
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