The History of Hot Tubs

Have you ever wondered who made the first hot tub? What did they use, and from where did they draw their inspiration? Humans and other mammals, being warm-blooded creatures, are naturally drawn to sources of heat; so much so that it’s hard to imagine a time before plumbing, hot showers, bubble baths, and hot tubs. We’re going to delve into the history of hot tubs, from the prehistoric era to 2018.

The Beginning

Historically, we’ve built our civilizations around resources that make life easier – rivers, lakes, and oceans for water and fishing, and lush forests for hunting and protection from the elements. But we’ve also settled around resources that make life more enjoyable. On the Tibetan Plateau, deemed the “roof of the world”, archaeologists discovered evidence that humans settled permanently near an ancient hot spring between 7,000 and 13,000 years ago.

Clearly, the love affair with warmth hasn’t lost its fire yet, but as technology changed and we evolved, so did our approach to employing water for our own benefit.

● Hot Water in Our Homes. In Ancient Egypt, it was common for the wealthy to regularly enjoy “showers” in their homes. With the help of servants who would heat, haul, and pour the water over them while they bathed, they were able to enjoy an experience we take for granted in the modern era.

● Improving Natural Hot Springs. A thousand miles away, the Ancient Greeks built “thermal complexes” around the water they believed had the power to heal. Instead of routing the water elsewhere, they carved seats into the rock of the springs that were both beautiful and functional. The design was so revolutionary that the Ancient Romans eventually copied the Greeks’ idea of thermal complexes.

● Artificial Hot Springs. Beginning in 200 BCE, Roman architects designed public bathhouses to be built in an ancient form of concrete. By 33 AD, there were 170 baths in the empire. With aqueducts, they could use gravity alone to move cold water from higher elevations to lower elevations. A heating system known as a hypocaust would warm the water, floors, and walls, creating a warm and comfortable space to bathe in. Not surprisingly, many of these baths still exist today!

All good things must come to an end. The Western Roman Empire fell in 476 AD, and with it, the upkeep of the luxurious communal baths. Many even disappeared, while others would become social centers and even brothels!

Meanwhile in Japan, the bathing culture was alive and well. It was this tradition that actually inspired the modern hot tub. Japan, formed in 660s BCE, is a country of volcanic islands with many natural hot springs that have been enjoyed by inhabitants for centuries. They are credited with the development of three different types of hot springs.

1. Onsens. Located on or around natural hot springs, onsens were public or private bathing houses that harnessed geothermal heat.
2. Sentōs. Heated by boilers or furnaces, sentōs are artificially-constructed communal bath houses that imitate natural hot springs.
3. Ofuros. The ancestor to the modern hot tub, ofuros were about the length and width of American bathtubs, but three to four times deeper. They were crafted of wood, heated by burning wood, and installed for home use.

During World War II, American troops were exposed to the innovative wonder of ofuros. Not only did they bring home the idea of ofurus, they returned to the US with some of the tubs themselves. Expanding on the concept, “flower children” used discarded wooden wine barrels and vats to create their own wood-fired hot tubs, presumably while listening to Buddy Holly.

Hot SpringⓇ Modernizes the Hot Tub

Through the 1940s through 1960s, wooden hot tubs were manufactured in the state of California. Subject to bacterial growth, mold, and leakage, these tubs had no filters. In these conditions, wood slowly corrodes and loses its ability to hold water.

Then in 1956, a huge advancement was made. Seeking to relieve a family member of rheumatoid arthritis pain, the Jacuzzi brothers invented the world’s first portable hydrotherapy pump. Fast forward twelve years and they’ve built jets directly into the walls of hot tubs, sparking a brand new industry.

Since then, American-made hot tubs have made leaps and bounds. Wooden builds were replaced with more durable fiberglass in the late 1960s, and eventually acrylic in the 1970s and 1980s.

Watkins Wellness, Hot Spring’s parent company, was vital to the hot tub’s shift into family homes. Their portable spa was made of vinyl ester resin and acrylic, as opposed to the standard polyester resin. Watkins installed full insulation, top-loading filters, and underwater lighting in their tubs, and eventually moved away from build-your-own hot tub kits, while incorporating full-service delivery, installation, and customer service into their business model.

Today, Watkins Wellness leads the industry with collections like the Hot Spring Highlife NXT, featuring tubs large enough for seven people and 43 hydrotherapy jets! Their advanced filtration systems keep the water fresh and pure, while wirelessly-controlled temperature and jet settings, lights, waterfalls, and entertainment systems ensure your experience is top-notch. They also offer the very best in service, with plans supplying professional help, maintenance, and repairs.