Historical Hot Tubs
The ancient modern history of soaking troubles away
Hot tub technology has had many advances over the years, especially once technology came around. Humankind has put a lot of time, thought and money into the simple act of soaking, since its earliest times, and that hasn’t changed in thousands of years even if the features have.
Hot Tubbin’ Ancients
Ancient Egyptians started it all, bathing up to four times daily. Evidence of wealthy houses having their own hot tubs inside goes back to at least 2,000 BCE — four thousand years ago. They often added flowers or essential oils, both as a fragrance and for aromatherapy purposes.
500 years later, the Greeks built hot tubs near volcanoes. Natural heating! They built aqueducts just to flow fresh water through their bath houses, in fact.
Perhaps the most famous of the ancient hot tubs were those of the Romans. Their whole culture was built around hot tubs. Families would bathe together, people conducted business there, and doctors ordered dips to heal the sick or injured — much like today! The Romans developed radiant heat for the floors and walls of their bath houses, and the baths themselves were either warm or very hot, heated by fires in furnace rooms below the pools. They were perhaps the first to artificially heat their spas, and did so throughout the Empire.
While the Vikings were raiding the North Atlantic nations and beyond, Japan was using volcanic pools for healing, both mental and physical. They meditated in the pools. To keep the water clean, they often bathed before getting into the hot tub, just as we sometimes do today. The deep wooden hot tubs we see today are descendants of the ancient Japanese Ofuro tubs.
Later, the Native American Mahican tribe in what is now Syracuse, New York used the natural hot springs there for healing and therapeutic value before the first colonists arrived. Later, the Mohawk Indians carried a wounded British officer of the French and Indian War there to heal his war wounds, and our very first president also visited those same springs. Another famous Native natural spa region was found in Hot Spring, Arkansas, and is also still in use today.
As you can see, hot tubbing is not a modern thing at all, but goes back to the earliest civilizations we know! They used it for socialization as well as cleanliness, and often used them for their healing properties — just as we do today!
The Modern Era
With the advent of the industrial revolution, spa resorts came into fashion in the late 1800s and by the onset of WWII, had spread throughout Europe. Some, such as the one President Theodore Roosevelt owned, were thought to have healing properties (and in fact, the paraplegic president visited his spa in Warm Springs, Georgia annually throughout his adult life).
After WWII, soldiers and Marines returned from Japan and brought the still-used ofuro idea with them. They copied the concept using old crates and barrels, and it became popularized through the ‘60s counter-culture. These early American hot tubs weren’t very sanitary and they leaked, but that didn’t stop anyone!
After that, technology really took off, and hot tub advances came right on its heels.
- 1956 – Two brothers invent the hot tub pump specifically to help an arthritic family member, then began to sell spa therapy (hydrotherapy) directly to those who needed them in hospitals and schools. You’ll recognize their name; these were the Jacuzzi brothers.
- Early 60s – Sunken hot tubs came into use as accessories to swimming pools. They had one jet, if any, and were seen as purely recreational. Meanwhile, winery barrels were being put to use by the counterculture Flower Child as leaky spas, but without pumps, they often became hygiene issues.
- Late 60s – Fiberglass tubs invented by Len Gordon. These dealt with the hygiene issues of the earlier wooden tubs, but didn’t last long and often stained. The first non-wooden above ground tubs! Also, the Jacuzzi pumps became wildly popular as game show prizes, bringing hydrotherapy to the public for the first time in modern times.
- 1968 – Jacuzzi brings the first self-contained whirlpool bath to market. They call it the Roman, to bring back images of the ancient Roman bath houses.
- 1970 – Jacuzzi has a brilliant idea, and attaches heater, pump and filter to a free-standing hot tub for the very first time.
- 1973 – Acrylic pre-made, mass-produced tubs become widely available thanks to Baja Products, solving the staining problem of earlier purely fiberglass shells.
- Early ‘70s – More advanced wooden tubs still dominate the market, but as free-standing hot tubs become more widely available, the new fiberglass and acrylic tubs are applied to free-standing units, making the self-contained hot tub more widely known and available.
- 1976 – The first complete controls and plumbing package to fit under the free-standing spa’s skirting was invented by Baker Hydro.
- 1979 – Because of the market’s rapid expansion and early reliance on fiberglass, consumer complaints skyrocket and hot tubs begin to get something of a bad name. This set the stage for the rise of acrylic tubs, which quickly became the industry’s champion.
- 1980s – Electronic controls came into use. Also, new kinds of shells such as roto-molded tubs became available for low-budgets and small spaces, making hot tub ownership possible for many more people than before. Above-ground hot tubs surpass in-ground units for the first time in the mid ‘80s.
- 1990s – Spas overcome earlier negative reputations for quality and sales surge from California to the national level, and then internationally.
- 1995 – As the price of redwood skyrockets due to scarcity, the first synthetic skirts are made widely available. This also brought the costs of ownership down, helping drive skyrocketing sales.
- 2000s – Energy efficiency gains popularity due to the rising green movement. Also, options flood the market. WiFi, built-in stereo units, colored lighting, and therapy-specific jet additions proliferate.
- Today – As the market rebounds from the 2007 economic collapse, features are again being innovated. Hot tubs can be controlled by smartphones. New filtration ideas such as ozone units and saltwater systems quickly go from concept to must-have features.
The future of hot tubs is as bright as it ever has been. As high-end items like ozone systems become commoditized, retailers are beginning to compete on quality again, rather than price — everyone’s units are affordable, so the features and effectiveness are becoming what people care about again. Efficiency is higher than ever before, and costs are within even modest budgets once more.
It’s never been a better time to own a modern marvel, the hot tub, with all their new features added to a 4,000-year-old idea.