Wednesday, January 14, 2009

1814: first bathtub in the White House

The White House is like a five-star hotel filled with the latest gadgets and appliances. One of the last things the president has to think about, is whether the plumbing works; but many earlier first families suffered with poor plumbing and heating.

Congress can be blamed for a least part of the problem, because necessary appropriations weren't made, and the building decayed. The White House was in such bad condition before a major renovation in 1948, that officials considered demolishing and replacing it.

President Millard Fillmore (1850-53) is most often credited for the first bathtub in the White House, in 1851; but he doesn't deserve the credit. Journalist and satirist H.L Mencken wrote a fictional history of the bathtub for the The New York Evening Mail in 1917, and mentioned the Fillmore tub's installation. Mencken recanted the Fillmore tub tale later, saying "My motive was simply to have some harmless fun in war days. It never occurred to me that it would be taken seriously."

In reality, fourth president James Madison was probably the first to bathe in the White House, in 1814; but the water had to be heated on a stove and carried in a bucket. Real plumbing apparently came in 1834 during the Andrew Jackson administration. (info from Plumbing World, Trivia Library; tub picture from Chief Symbols)

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