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References to the installation of plumbing fixtures began to appear in architectural plan books in the 1840s. Plumbing systems were already known in large hotels and grand mansions by 1833, when water was first piped into the White House. Sometime within the next year, a "bathing room" was established in the east wing. Interim upgrades appear to have been made during the 1840s, by which time a toilet was probably in place on the main floor.

In 1853, a permanent bath tub, with hot and cold running water, replaced the portable painted tin tubs in the President's quarters. But there were no toilets, showers, or tubs for the servants. "Running water, not yet considered a necessity, was available only where it could increase the servants' efficiency—in the pantry on the main floor, in the hall of the basement, in the upstairs hall. [. . .] Servants bathed in tin tubs in the west wing, hauling water in buckets from one of the pumps. Privies, one for men and one for women, opened off the covered passages that ran between the house and the wings."1

White House servants bathed in tinned sheet iron tubs such as this one.

Winterthur Museum

Footnotes & Resources

  1. William Seale, The President's House, (Washington, D.C.: White House Historical Association,1986), 197–200, 317.

Read more: Richard L. Bushman and Claudia L. Bushman, "The Early History of Cleanliness in America." Journal of American History 74 (March 1988): 1213-1238. Maureen Ogle, All the Modern Conveniences: American Household Plumbing, 1840–1890. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000. Maureen Ogle, "Domestic Reform and American Household Plumbing, 1840–1870, Winterthur Portfolio 28:1 (Spring 1993): 33-58. William Seale, The President's House. Washington: White House Historical Association, 1986.

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