My title

We use them every day, they help us start our day or switch off at night, they get us warm when it is cold, or cool down when it is hot. They are so useful, but how often do we think about where they come from? The history of showers and where they come from is quite interesting. In order to look at where they come from, we need to look at what you need to have a shower. Obviously, the first thing that comes to mind is water.

The Egyptians

The first showers people used were naturally occurring waterfalls in rivers or against cliffs. Ancient tribesmen would cleanse themselves while standing under the waterfalls. This ancient way of having a shower depends on running water, but what would people in a desert do?

The ancient Egyptians had an answer to this. They were well known for their cleanliness, even shaving their hair off to avoid lice. They had their servants pour water from the Nile river or water wells over them. Unfortunately, showering like this was only reserved for the wealthy in Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. The water was also often cold.

The Greeks

The ancient Greeks revolutionised water transport and plumbing by inventing the aqueduct. The aqueducts allowed the Greeks to lead the water from its source to where they needed it. Their ancient showers were communal and could be found in gymnasiums. In their showers gushes of water poured from the ceiling and the bathers stood under it. Similar to the Greeks, Ancient Romans also had bathhouses that provided people with the opportunity to have a refreshing shower.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, with a shift in culture and centralisation of dissemination of information, public bathing fell out of fashion. The bathhouses lost their popularity, especially the unisex ones. This was due to the belief that seeing members of the opposite gender without clothes was considered sinful. However, although people showered less during the Medieval times, people still used basic sanitation in their own homes.

The earliest showers

Thus far we have spoken about the essential element required to have a proper shower – water. But what about the other things you need to clean up, like soap?

Enter the Crusaders. The brave warriors brought soap back to Europe during the Middle Ages from the Levant. This lead to soap trading becoming an established trade during what later became known as the dark ages. But what was lost was the aqueducts and sophisticated sewerage systems used by the Romans and Greeks. Instead of public showers, people were having baths in their home in tubs made from wood. Apparently, everyone did not wash themselves every day. Due to the Black Plague killing a third of the population in Europe, hygiene and cleanliness became a prerogative again as people realised the health benefits of being clean.

Because the people of the early 18th Century did not have adequate plumbing or sewage systems, having a bath was an arduous task. The bathtubs took quite a lot of water to fill. Having a bath was incredibly labour intensive and the water had to be heated and carried to the bath from the kitchen. This was done by using buckets. When the bath was done, the dirty water had to be carried outside.

The first operational shower

William Feetham was a stove and heater manufacturer in London. He had had enough of carrying water around and invented the world’s first operational shower. He was granted the patent for his product in 1767. This invention had a water reservoir in which the person having a shower stood, a hand pump and a reservoir above the person having a shower’s head. The person would then use the hand pump to get the water from the bottom reservoir up to the top reservoir. When the person was ready, they would pull a lever and the whole contents of the top reservoir would empty on top of them. To visualise this, think about the ice bucket challenge of a few years ago. Unlike the ice bucket challenge, however, because the water fell from the top into the bottom reservoir, the person in the shower could use the hand pump to repeat the process.

The aristocrats of the time did not think much of Feetham’s invention. The reason for this is that every time the water was pumped up into the top reservoir and poured down again, it became colder and dirtier. They preferred to have their luxuriously warm baths. Still, Feetham’s basic shower was the best people had for over a century.

Showering became popular again in the mid-19th century. In prisons, communal showers were used as they were more economical than individual baths. So by then humanity had access to water and we could make it pour down on us. However, how did we get this water warm? Luckily for us, developments in water heaters meant that we could now have hot showers. Indoor plumbing had greatly improved by this stage and most homes could afford their own free standing shower with hot running water.

Sounds great right? Unfortunately in order to heat the water up, fuel had to be used. In 1868, another Englishman, Benjamin Waddy Maughan invented a water heater that used gas generated by a burner. This invention however, did not have ventilation and the build-up of pressure inside, meant that it often exploded. Edwin Ruud, a Norwegian engineer, improved on the invention made by Maughan. In 1889 the first safe, gas powered and automatic water heater was invented and a new era of enjoyable, hot showers began.

The 20th century

In the 20th century, tankless water heaters, often called electric showers, became popular as an instant supply of hot water, without the need for a hot water tank. However, bathrooms in their current shape and form only came about in the 1960’s.

In the 1980’s, shower manufacturers responded to the high consumer demand for a larger variety in shower features. Water jets, different coloured lights and different shower heads all followed.

In 2001 digital showers were pioneered by Aqualisa, taking showering into the digital age.

As you can see, showers come in a wide variety of different shapes and sizes for different tastes and preferences. At Prima Bella there is a shower for everyone. Take a look at our showers here.