Let’s play a little game, sugar. Of the following words, which doesn’t belong?
False medical claims.
Don’t tell us you chose “bathtub”?! While we don’t blame you let us enlighten you as to why you are wrong… (Well, all of the above belong, so admittedly, you were doomed from the start.)
You’d be hard-pressed to find a household utility or appliance that has a history cheekier than our beloved bathtub, sugar. In fact, we’d go to say a history as scandalous as the bathtub.
It all began in a letter published by the New York Evening Mail in December 1917 titled, “A Neglected Anniversary.” It reads:
On December 20 there flitted past us, absolutely without public notice, one of the most important profane anniversaries in American history, to wit, the seventy-fifth anniversary of the introduction of the bathtub into These States. Not a plumber fired a salute or hung out a flag. Not a governor proclaimed a day of prayer. Not a newspaper called attention to the day.
The article was written by the great American writer, H.L. Mencken. He went on to explain the introduction of the bathtub to the States. Still viewed as a novelty in England, he explained, the acquaintance of such an “epicurean and obnoxious toy from England” was met with disdain. Mocked as a “glorified dishpan,” the bathtub was soon attacked “…by the medical faculty as dangerous to health and a certain inviter of “phthisic, rheumatic fevers, inflammation of the lungs and the whole category of zymotic diseases.” Before long, Mencken wrote, the controversy spread across America. Some states taxed this bowl of tin while others banned it outright! It wasn’t until 1851, Mencken shares, that President Millard Fillmore put a quietus on all of the drama when he had the first bathtub installed into the White House. “The example of the President soon broke down all that remained of the old opposition, and by 1860, according to the newspaper advertisements of the time, every hotel in New York had a bathtub, and some had two and even three.”
Not long after this article was published, it was retracted. Why? Because it was all a joke!
Tired of the propaganda and misreporting of events during World War I, Mencken felt compelled to make a case for journalism with integrity and wrote the article. But what was meant as a satirical hoax was quickly reported as fact. News outlets, medical professionals, and even congressional speeches alluded to the false-history as factual evidence for the case against the bathtub! By 1926, Mencken wrote another article titled, “Meloncholy Reflections” in which he reported his original article as “pure buncome.”
Much to Mencken’s discontent, the false history still lives on as evidenced in an article as recent as 2001, when The Washington Post made a reference to Mencken’s line that President Filmmore was criticized for indulging in “monarchical luxuries!”
We’ll save the actual history of the bathtub for another blog. This was too good NOT to share for today!
Look out Greek mythology, step aside Shakespearean tragedies, few things in life have more drama than a bathtub.
Until next time, sugar!