Monday, September 3, 2012

The American History of the Bathtub Hoax: The Hoax That Refuses To Drown?

Does the famous American history of the bathtub hoax the one that stubbornly refuses to be drowned in spite of repeated denials? 

By: Ringo Bones

According to hoax scholars, the American history of the bathtub hoax is a textbook example of a practical joke-based hoax. Not only does it qualifies being defined as “a deception for mockery or mischief” but also qualifies as something being deliberately concocted untruth made to masquerade as truth. Originated by H.L. Mencken, this “somewhat believable hoax” refuses to be drowned in spite of repeated denials. Originally published as a news article in the New York Evening Mail on December 28, 1917 under the heading, “A Neglected Anniversary” – it states that the first American bathtub was displayed in 1842 by Adam Thompson of Cincinnati, at a stag party, where the entertainment consisted of trying the bathtub out for an actual dip. 

To Mr. Thompson’s surprise, the article states that physicians denounced the bathtub as a menace to health. The state of Boston prohibited the use of the bathtub except under strict medical advice; various states even imposed installation taxes or special water taxes; and in the state of Philadelphia, a measure forbidding the use of bathtubs from November to May was defeated by a mere two votes. Despite this opposition, it was nigh impossible to legislate the bathtub out of existence. Even President Millard Fillmore installed one in the White House after his inauguration in 1850 and took the first “presidential bath”. 

Of course not a word in that very interesting New York Evening Mail article was true. Nearly ten years, however, H.L. Mencken found it necessary to write: “Pretty soon I began to encounter my preposterous “facts” in the writings of other men. They began to be used by chiropractors and other such quacks as evidence of stupidity of medical men. They began to be cited by medical men as proof of the progress of public hygiene. They got into learned journals. They were alluded to on the floor of Congress… Finally, I began to find them in standard works of reference.”

Even today, the “facts” concocted by H. L. Mencken about the introduction of the bathtub into the United States are still finding their way into innumerable newspaper and magazine articles, speeches by prominent persons, plumbing advertisements, official US government publications and even serious books on social history. The American history of the bathtub hoax refuses to be drowned, indeed.