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A brief history of the shower

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A brief history of the shower

It's been said that to understand where we're going, we need to understand where we've come from.

With that in mind, learning about the origins of the humble bathroom shower is an interesting and useful journey to set out on.

The human population, since the dawn of time, has always needed to wash. Whether it's to clean up after hunting a woolly mammoth, spending a hard day's work farming or the nine-to-five at the office - the shower has been a solid fixture in society for thousands of years.

From its all-natural beginnings to the modern day, read on to find out more.

The first shower

If you've ever wondered what the first shower to be used by man was, the chances are you've seen plenty of them in your lifetime without even realising it.

Back in the days when our ancestors used to reside in caves and crudely constructed huts, the best way to get clean was to throw yourself under the most powerful blast of water going - a waterfall.

People would apparently hunt out these beauty spots by travelling for miles, after realising this was a much more effective way of washing away the ingrained filth that hunter-gathering inevitably brings, as opposed to bathing in a pool or lake.

So, while the first shower was hardly a man-made invention, it was still an example of the early signs of human ingenuity and being able to make the most of our natural resources.

The Ancient Egyptians

Unfortunately, not everyone had immediate access to their own private waterfall and for a long time, there was little these poor, unfortunate souls could do about it.

However, as society advanced and the invention of the jug came about, civilizations were able to replicate the effects of a waterfall by pouring cold water over themselves.

The Ancient Egyptians and the Mesopotamians (who lived in modern day Iraq) were believed to be the first empires to realise the potential this seemingly simple approach could offer.

Because the technology didn't yet exist to heat the water up, you can imagine how these showers could take your breath away - although under the sun of North Africa and the Middle East, that wasn't necessarily a bad thing!

Ancient Egypt is thought to be the brains behind establishing how a shower could be a thing of luxury, with wealthy members of the community ordering servants or slaves to bring jugs of water to special shower rooms. Inevitably, this turned out to be something that would ensure you were classed much higher in the social ladder than the common people.

The Ancient Greeks

The Greeks adopted this idea and improved it by developing the first drainage systems, with the Egyptians never really getting past the initial stage of having the water carried in and out of the room by hired (or forced) help on their own.

Because this once mighty civilization really didn't like the idea of having all the waste from a person's cleaning session hanging around, they came up with an ingenious system that allowed water to be transported in and out of rooms via lead piping. As such, the Ancient Greeks could be considered to be history's first plumbers!

Another first was that showers were made accessible to those on lower steps of the social pyramid, with artwork from this time in history showcasing large, communal areas where everyone would wash together.

The Romans

It is perhaps the Romans who are best known for their love of keeping clean, constructing large bathhouses not only in their native land, but also in those they conquered - and evidence of this is available for all to see across Europe.

This involved developing and building advanced sewage systems for disposing of the waste water produced and was a clear indication of the investment the Romans were willing to put into keeping clean.

Unfortunately, the collapse of both the Roman and the Greek empires meant much of this technology was put on hold for hundreds of years, so the shower as we know it today would have to wait a little bit longer to come into existence.

The first 'modern' shower

Fast forward to 1767, when the first shower as we would recognise it today was patented by London stove maker William Feetham.

This invention pumped water into a basin above the user's head, before they pulled a chain that would release cold water. However, a noticeable downside of this breakthrough was that the same dirty liquid would have to be reused every time the chain was yanked during the same shower session.

By 1810, the English Regency Shower had been invented by an anonymous entrepreneur, which offered bathers a hot shower for the first time. This was then adapted further in 1850 after the Greek and Roman method of reliable plumbing was rediscovered, meaning that people no longer had to reuse the same old water.

In the 1920s, the US began pushing the shower out to the wider public, as opposed to just the wealthy. It wasn't until the 1960s that the UK followed suit, by which time the electric shower had been launched onto the market.

The 1980s was when the popularity of the shower hit full blast, with different shower heads, coloured lights and body jets all catching on. This trend has continued to the modern day, with a huge range now available to the population.

So, from incredibly humble beginnings, there you have it: the history of the shower in a nutshell. Who knows where it will go next?

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About Us
George Thomson established "The Shower Doctor" in 1993 to focus on shower repair in the Edinburgh area. George is a second generation plumber; he and his father ran a successful plumbing and heating business. In the late 80's this 40-year-old family business was sold.
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