Thursday, January 14, 2016

Plumbing and the Antique Clawfoot Tub

By Gretchen Sawatzki

At the end of a long day, nothing is more relaxing than a nice hot bath in a deep tub, but bathing wasn't always a common practice. As a luxury only afforded by the wealthy, bathing was a ritual that the every day man simply could not partake in. With the completion of the Croton Aqueduct in New York City in 1842 supplying local fire hydrants with pressurized water came the dawn of modern plumbing. By the 1850s indoor plumbing became a household luxury to the wealthy and by 1920 about 1% of U.S. households had plumbing. By 1950 nearly every household in America had some form of plumbing.

Antique clawfoot tub with feet. Image by Hannah Manning.
As plumbing became more readily available in the United States, so did bathing and bathing fixtures. Founded in 1873 by John Michael Kohler, the Wisconsin-based Kohler Company began manufacturing "enameled cast iron horse trough/hog scalders" that were sold as a bath tub in 1883. This would become Kohler's first plumbing product. Around the same time, the Standard Manufacturing Company, today known as American Standard, perfected an enameling process advertised as "porcelain enamel ware" that became the catalyst for the modern bathroom.

With plumbing fixtures designed for the taste of the times, the clawfoot tub emerged as a beautiful, yet functional bathroom must-have. Today, bath tubs come is all shapes and sizes, but the antique clawfoot tub still reigns supreme. Made of cast iron, antique clawfoot tubs can be refinished and restored adding a touch of historic charm to any bathroom.

Antique cast iron clawfoot tub before restoration, shown
without its classic feet. Image by Charles Wiesner.
This antique cast iron clawfoot tub, was cast in 1895. Weighing several hundred pounds and outfitted with its original plumbing, this tub needed lots of sanding and several applications of epoxy paint to bring it back to its former glory. If your looking for an attractive antique tub, consider refinishing a salvaged tub. Refinishing an old tub can be tricky though, so it's often a good choice to leave this job to the professionals.

Antique cast iron tub after refinishing.
Image by Charles Wiesner.
Whether antique or new, the appeal of clawfoot bath tubs has stood the test of time. Once only for the wealthy, bathing and tubs in general would have been tough for the common man to obtain, but with a lot of help from modern plumbing, and the contemporary ability to refinish great antique tubs, you too can bathe like a regal.

Sources:
            American Standard
            Lest We Forget, a Short History of Housing in the United States
            Kohler
            Vintage Tub

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