Hydrotherapy was all the rage in the 19th century. Inventors devised countless contraptions to immerse people in water, hoping to restore them to health using nature’s favourite liquid. But none were quite as awkward as the invention above: the “rocking bath tub” of 1891.
Hydrotherapy was thought to be able to cure all kinds of ailments, and even had its own alt-medicine magazines like the Water-Cure Journal. By the mid-19th century, different water-cure facilities were cropping up all over Europe and the United States. But what was the water enthusiast to do at home? Enter the Nautilus-brand wave and rocking bath.
The August 9, 1891 edition of Lloyd’s Weekly in the UK described the new invention as the “height of luxurious ease”:
In this both the water can be set in motion by rocking, producing a sensation very much like the waves of the sea, which will delight and benefit especially invalids, delicate people and children. Only three pails of cold or hot water are required, and there is no splashing in the room to be apprehended. By placing a wedge under the curve of the back the bath can be made to serve the ordinary purposes of the tub.
The rocking bath simulated what it might be like to visit a body of water with real waves, allowing water’s magical healing properties (according to some Victorian-era doctors) to wash over you naturally. Patients didn’t even need to leave the house.
The 1898 book The Natural Method of Healing by Friedrich Eduard Bilz also touted the invention’s versatility as both a health-restoring rocker and stationary bath.
But as wonderful as the supposed health benefits might be, the thing didn’t look very comfortable to sit in. The 1996 book The Temple of Health: A Pictorial History of the Battle Creek Sanitarium by Patsy Gerstner includes the photo below:
Inventors in the United States in Europe who believed in the health benefits of the rocking bath tub continued to improve on the concept. In 1898 this patent for a rocking bath made the device look much more like a rocking chair.
Despite claims that water couldn’t escape the Nautilus and other rocking bath tubs invented in the 1890s, the open air device clearly wasn’t immune to spills. In 1900 a patent was issued for a more high-tech rocking bath. Not only was the rocking seemingly more controlled, there was no risk of spilling water with the strange neck-drape that was provided.
Hydrotherapy had largely fallen out of fashion by the early 20th century, even amongst the alt-medicine crowd. And the rocking bath tub of the 1890s looks like a curious novelty to those of us here in the early 21st century. But as fun (and as awkward) as it looks, it wasn’t just a game. These baths were the cutting edge of health. Even if their advertised benefits turned out to be bullshit.
Pictures: Rocking bath photo circa 1900 via The Temple of Health by Patsy Gertsner; Niagara rocking bath via Flickr; Baby in rocking bath from the Virtual Victorian; Patent drawings via Google Patents