The History of the Shower

For most of us, taking a shower is part of a morning or evening routine that we don’t give much conscious thought. It’s probably safe to say you’ve not often considered how the shower you visit on a regular basis came into existence, but here’s the truth: the history of showers is actually pretty cool.

  • As you might imagine, the very first showers were about as natural as it gets: waterfalls were an obvious choice for bathers of the earliest civilizations thanks to their ability to rinse someone clean through the flow of water, which was far more efficient than simply dunking oneself in a large basin. It wasn’t long before people began to mimic the waterfall’s abilities by pouring jugs and pots of water onto themselves and one another after lathering up.

  • Then, dating back to early Egypt and Mesopotamia, upper class individuals appear to have had their own shower rooms where bathing could take place in private. These rooms were made up of very basic drainage systems and likely required that water be carried into the room by human hands.

  • It was really the ancient Greeks who pioneered the way toward the showers we’re familiar with today. Made of lead pipes, the water channels and sewage systems used by the ancient Greeks allowed water to be pumped into and out of communal shower rooms. In fact, it’s likely that showers of this time period were quite similar to the locker room showers of today.

  • Along the same vein, the ancient Romans were famous for their bathhouses and their belief that bathing multiple times a week was good for one’s health. Sadly, after the fall of the Roman Empire, things in the world of plumbing also collapsed.

  • The first hand-pump-operated shower was patented in 1767 and used a pump that forced the water into a vessel above the bather’s head and a chain that released the water. While this system might have been an improvement to carrying water by hand, it clearly had some flaws.

  • Finally, in the early 1800s, an English Regency shower was designed that towered over the user at 10 feet tall and was made up of metal pipes that had been, bizarrely, painted to look like bamboo. A basin was suspended above the pipes and fed water into a nozzle that allowed water to rain down. Water was drained through a grate in the shower floor and pumped back through the pipes and again into the basin. A major drawback of this system? It recycled the same dirty water for each use.

  • Thankfully, indoor plumbing was reinvented in the mid 1850s, which solved much of the problems with the shower model. Nearly 20 years later, modern showers were installed in the barracks of the French army for hygiene purposes. Here, the water was heated through the use of a steam engine in under five minutes, allowing multiple prisoners to wash at once with small amounts of water. The French system of communal showers spread to other countries over the rest of the decade, and were eventually replicated in boarding schools and public bathhouses.

  • From that point, the use of showers really took off. They grew in popularity across Europe, the United States and, by extension, Louisville.

Today, showers are one of the most important plumbing fixtures in our homes and remain a source of comfort, relaxation and good hygiene. Did reading this make you realize how much you’re in need of a new shower or shower head? We’re always here to help.