1840 - 1880 Full-size Adult (Plunge) Bathtub

Until the mid–19th century, the application of soap in the bath was uncommon. Most soap, made from tallow, was specifically for washing of clothes. Only the wealthy had access to the imported, specially wrapped, and expensive perfumed toilet soaps.
Occasionally hemlock branches and herbs such as tansy, wormwood, and chamomile were steeped in a vapor or foot bath to assist a cure, rather than to scent or cleanse the bath. The bather lay or sat, wrapped in blankets, on strong sticks of wood set across a large tub of scalding hot water and herbs.* This tub is the largest of the portable bathtubs in the collection and could have been used for such a purpose.
Later in the 19th century, Mary Gay Humphrey in the Woman’s Book recommended bran, oat, or almond meal as accompaniments to the bath. If one had greasy skin, she suggested adding borax or ammonia to the water.
For more information on bathing and bathtubs in the 19th and early 20th centuries, please see the introduction to this online exhibition.
*Lydia M. F. Child, The Family Nurse, (Bedford, MA: Applewood Books, 1997; Originally published in Boston by Charles J. Hendee in 1837), 135.
Currently not on view
Object Name
tub, bath
date made
1840 - 1880
Physical Description
tin (overall material)
paint (overall material)
cork (part: stopper material)
iron (part: handle material)
wood (part: handle material)
overall: 7 3/4 in x 50 3/8 in x 20 3/4 in; 19.685 cm x 127.9525 cm x 52.705 cm
overall: 8 in x 50 in x 21 in; 20.32 cm x 127 cm x 53.34 cm
place made
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Domestic Furnishings
Family & Social Life
Portable Bathtubs
See more items in
Home and Community Life: Domestic Life
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Credit Line
Gift of Kenneth E. Jewett
Additional Media

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