There aren’t many better feelings than stepping into a hot shower and wallowing in the comforting suds of your Cornerstone body wash. This love of feeling clean isn’t just a 21st-century privilege – humans have been obsessed with showering since the dawn of civilisation. Prepare yourself for a soggy trip through time!
The first shower
Ever wondered what the first shower to be used by humans was? You’ve probably seen plenty of them in your lifetime without even realising it!
Back in the days when homosapiens slept in caves and huts, the most effective way to get clean was to brave the most powerful blast of water going – a waterfall.
Anthropologists have theorised that early hunter-gatherers would travel huge distances in search of waterfalls, after realising they were a much more effective way of washing than bathing in a dirty pool or lake.
The ancient Egyptians
The ancient Egyptian world was full of ingenious ideas and they too saw the luxurious potential of showering. Although there was no indoor plumbing at this time, the Egyptians were incredibly efficient with pottery. The rich and wealthy would use large clay jugs of water – commanding their servants to pour the water over them, just like a waterfall!
Along with water, the ancient Egyptians also used soaps to keep clean. These were not like the bars or body washes we use today, though. Often, these soaps came in the form of a paste of ash or clay, mixed with oil, and sometimes scented. This resulted in a material that not only cleaned the body, but also soothed any skin disease or damage. They were also known to put sand in their jugs of water, as a way of exfoliating the skin – just like a Cornerstone face scrub!
The ancient Greeks
The ancient Greeks were the first to pioneer something akin to the modern shower. The gymnasiums of classical Greece were places for men to train in sports and participate in public games. The ancient Greek term “gymnós” actually means “naked,” – gymnasiums were so-called because athletes competed there in the nude!
As such, gymnasiums had to provide athletes with a place to bathe after their exercises, so showers and indoor plumbing appeared in gymnasiums first. Their aqueducts and sewage systems were made of lead pipes, and allowed water to be pumped both into and out of large communal shower rooms.
These rooms have been discovered at the site of the city of Pergamum, which is near the modern city of Bergama, Turkey. They were very similar to modern locker room showers, and even included bars to hang up clothing.
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The Roman Shower
The Romans were famed for their love of personal hygiene, and thanks to their engineering expertise, were able to build upon the showers of ancient Greece. Roman bathhouses featured facilities for bathing and showering, and introduced the use of log-fire heated water, so people could enjoy a warmer temperature.
The rise of the Roman Empire meant these were some of the earliest warm showers made widely available until the Empire crumbled and the technology eventually ran into disuse. The Dark Ages were upon us—which meant many of the advances made with showering were quickly lost.
After the Roman Empire, it took until 1767 for the first mechanical shower to emerge. Patented by London stove maker William Feetham, the invention pumped water into a basin above the user’s head, before they pulled a chain that would release the water. Unfortunately, some noticeable downsides of this breakthrough were that it could only use cold water, and the same dirty liquid would have to be reused each time the chain was pulled. Hardly a luxury!
By 1810, the English Regency Shower had been invented by an anonymous entrepreneur. This version was much closer to the type of showers we still use now. Approximately 3 metres in height, the Regency shower featured a water basin suspended by 5 metal pipes.
A nozzle was connected to the bottom of the basin that then enabled water to fall onto the user below. Not only was the design more graceful than Feetham’s slightly crude creation, but it also allowed the use of warm water via the basin. It was embraced by the rich and wealthy, with the design being modified over the following decades to include hand pumps for refilling the basin and adjustable nozzles—which we still use today.
Running water finally arrived in the mid-1800s, inspired by the early plumbing of ancient Greece and Rome. Instead of going to the nearest well or river to pick up buckets of water, more and more people across the UK were granted access to clean, fresh water directly into their homes. What a treat!
Thanks to the rise of indoor plumbing, French inventor Francois Delabost encouraged the installation of showers in prisons and army barracks. He believed communal showers were a more hygienic and efficient way for prisoners and soldiers to remain clean, rather than reusing the same dirty bathwater. We can’t say he was wrong!
His invention involved a steam engine that heated the water in less than five minutes, which was then pumped directly to 8 shower stalls. It meant that, by using only 20 litres of water, 8 different people could be cleaned at the same time. It proved to be a huge success and by the early 1900s, it had found use in public bathhouses, boarding schools, prisons and army barracks across Europe.
Eventually, this heated shower system gave rise to the modern boiler and shower, and by the 1960s, many families in the UK had a hot shower right in their bathroom. We’ve come a long way since standing under waterfalls!