Private Sweat Bathing Cublicles
©1997 Mikkel Aaland All Rights Reserved
Advertisement from the 19th century.
From Sweat, copyright Mikkel Aaland
A radically altered form of the Turkish bath caught the fancy
of rural America in the late 1800s. A simple box in which a single
person could sit and sweat was far from the communal Turkish;
but entrepreneurs cleverly labeled these boxes "Turkish," to give
them a romantic appeal.
The principle had been used before, extensively. In Europe, these
boxes, warmed by hot rocks and sometimes burning whiskey, were
popular during the Middle Ages. A barrel, large enough to accomodate
one person, was caulked and heated by burning spirits. These ancient
steam cabinets were called Russian or oriental baths and were
re-invented later as the steam or Turkish bath in America.
For 19th century America, these cubicles solved the problem of
how to bathe in the nude without being seen. In rural areas lacking
plumbing, sweat boxes were a practical alternative to spacious
public baths. Mail order ads and traveling salesmen proclaimed
doctor's endorsements for the cure-all sweat boxes.
The 1854 Encyclopedia Britannica advises: "The vapour bath is
infinitely superior to the warm bath for all purposes for which
a warm bath can be given. An effective vapour bath may easily
be had in any house at little cost and trouble."
The Britannica then offered a simple method of making a sweat
bath at home: heat a brick in the oven and place it in a metal
basin; then pour water over it to produce steam. The bather, wrapped
in a towel, should sit on a chair above the brick. Another method
was the Quaker model which sold for $5.00 by mail order. It was
a fabric cylinder enclosing a chair and spirit lamp. The bather
sat for 15 minutes or so, sweating in the hot, dry air.
A more elaborate steam bath, patented in 1814, included an impressive
boiler to feed steam under a bed cover, and a four-posted canopy
with curtains to form a roomy steam tent. Variations on such inventions
flooded 19th century magazines and catalogs.
These private "saunas," as they are now called, were never widely
popular in the United States, although they do have a few fervent
followers. They are found in health spas, trailer courts, massage
parlors, local gymnasia, as well as private homes.
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