Bathroom and Kitchen Tech at the Turn of the 20th Century

A sketch of a bathtub being filled in a home during the early 20th century

Bathroom and Kitchen Tech at the Turn of the 20th Century

In real estate, bathrooms and kitchens often make or break a sale. In the late 19th century, indoor plumbing was becoming commonplace, and homes were increasingly becoming electrified.  This meant that kitchens and bathrooms were, perhaps for the first time, an important consideration when buying or renting a home.

Bathroom Tech

After bathing and toilet facilities earned a permanent place in the home, the toilet was segregated to its own room – the water closet. The Victorians worried about sewer gases coming up through the toilet and thought these gases caused illness.

The first pressurized flush toilet was invented in 1906, a couple decades after the first toilet paper on a roll in 1883. The first disposable feminine hygiene products also made their debut in the 1880s, but were initially very expensive.  The 1894 Montgomery Ward catalogue sold a dozen “health napkins” for 50 cents.  They were burned after use.

Sinks were referred to as lavatories and were generally small with no cabinetry underneath.

The first tubs were made of cast iron or had copper bottoms. These posed problems. Iron rusted and copper discolored. In 1903, the famous claw foot tub, made of porcelain tubs was developed. They were, however, expensive.   In 1911, new homes would include with a new feature, a built-in tub.

Before electric or gas water heaters were developed, water either had to be heated on the stove and carried to the tub or it had be heated while in the tub. Under-the-tub water heaters caused many accidents. They often scalded the bather by making the bottom of the tub dangerously hot, or they exploded.

Modern showers were developed in the 1860s.

Kitchen Tech

Two women prepare a meal in a circa 1900 kitchen
Two women prepare a meal in a circa 1900 kitchen

Kitchens were separated from the rest of the home and generally contained a walk-in pantry and/or a china closet. Before the 20th century, built-in cabinetry was uncommon. Kitchens had workbenches for food prep. The first counters were butcher block, and floors were tile.

The first kitchen sinks had indoor pumps that brought water into the house directly from the well. These later were replaced with plumbing. The farmhouse sink that is popular in many 21st century houses and remodels would have been right at home in a Victorian kitchen.

In the early 20th century, most stoves were powered by gas. Electric stoves did exist, but did not become popular for several more decades. Before this, stoves were heated by wood, charcoal or coal.

Many homes today have washers and dryers located in the kitchen. The first electric washing machine went on sale in 1911.


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Updated: 26 October 2020
Melina Druga
Most kids have an active imagination. My imagination has stayed strong into adulthood, and I’ve funneled that creativity into a successful writing career. I write history, both fiction and nonfiction, because although your school history classes may have been boring, the past is not. My goal is to bring the past to life in all its myriad of colors.
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