When most people think of a clawfoot bathtub, the most common image to come to mind is that from Victorian America replete with romance.
History of Clawfoot Bathtubs
Where it all Began
However, the clawfoot style bathtub is actually far older than that. Over 3,000 years ago in Crete you could find beautiful tubs after which the Victorian clawfoot was fashioned. They were made out of pottery and often very ornate, and averaged about 5' in length.
The Cretans were certainly not the only people to have tubs that doubled as art.
Amazing pieces are found in other countries very early in history including India, China, and Egypt. Of course, we also know that the Romans created intricate water supply systems to keep both public and private baths running.
From Rome to the Western World
It's nearly impossible to separate the history of clawfoot tubs from the history of bathing. During the height of the Roman empire bathing became as much as social activity as it was a way to get clean.
Unfortunately this would not last after Rome's collapse. If anything, bathing became somewhat out of fashion, which lead to numerous illnesses including the Plague.
Fast forward to around 1200 when soap comes into use. While it was something only the nobility enjoyed, high society life had some demands including being clean.
Among those fortunate enough to live in a keep or castle, baths would be perfumed, and a bath man would be present to reach those hard to get spots for you!
At this juncture the Church encouraged men and women's baths in large tubs for commoners.
Once the bath was prepared it was announced with drums or horns and people would gather, often already naked so as not to loose anything while bathing to local thieves.
Come the 1500s bathing had taking another down-swing and became very rare. People even worried that bathing could create illness. Thankfully eventually we find our way to the late 1800s when being prim, proper and CLEAN were back in vogue.
The year is now 1873 and JL Motts Ironworks company creates the first "official" clawfoot tub. This is a cast iron model with an enamel surface that weighed on average around 300 pounds.
The popularity of this model grew, and gained interest from a firm that would become known modernly as Kohler – a leader in bathroom manufacturing and design.
In 1883 Kohler included a utilitarian item for farmers that doubled as a bathtub with the addition of legs.
When the construction boom occurred after World War I nearly every home would include a clawfoot bathtub even if water had to be carted to it by hand.
To this day the style of this tub remains very popular for its elegant romance and nostalgic overtones.
About the only real change in the clawfoot bathtub is that modern buyers often opt for acrylic re-creations over antiques. Acrylic weighs much less than iron, won't crack or rust like iron, and generally the surface won't stain.
Owners do have to be careful to use non-abrasive cleaners to maintain that sleek surface, however. So it is that you can enjoy a lavish tub from out of the pages of history in your own home with a clawfoot bathtub.
The Clawfoot Bathtub
Updated March 15, 2012