The Phillips Bros Champion Bottling Works: A Baltimore-Based Bottling Company’s Knock-Out Advertising


Some of the best advertisements are ones of memorable imagery or catchy slogans, a method still utilized in today’s marketing. With a boxing scene and a tagline of “A Knockout for Thirst” the Phillips Brothers Champion Bottling Works certainly developed these marketing methods while in production from 1893 through the mid-1930s (The Re-ly-On Bottler). Based in Baltimore, Maryland the Phillips’ Brothers Company bottled “non-alcoholic maltless beverages” and were best known for their ginger-ale (The Official Gazette 1945: 539).

Figure A: An example of a typical aqua glass bottle from the Phillips Brothers Bottling Works. The bottle and corresponding illustration (Figure B) display the Baltimore-based company’s trade-mark design of a boxing match with the victor standing over the defeated competition.
Figure B: This image supported their company’s tag line of being “A Knockout for Thirst”
(Illustration credit: Alex Glass).

The Phillips Brothers consisted of the Henry Lake, John D., Levin W. and Howard S. Phillips. The company was first started by Levin and Howards Phillips, being later joined by Henry Lake, who over time became the senior member of the brothers’ enterprise. The company was a central member of the Maryland bottling business community and an active member of the American Bottler’s Protective associations (American Bottler 1920).

The center of the Phillips Brothers company was a state-of-the-art factory, operated by top-of-the-line machinery for the time. One of the main innovative machines on their line was the Shields six-head rotary filling machine (Fig. C). With two of the Shields filling machines operating on the production line, the company went from turning out a few dozen bottles daily to 6,000 dozen bottles of soda each day.

Figure C: The Shields six-head rotary filing machine developed the brothers’ bottling company from a few dozen bottle producing company into a highly functioning, high yielding production line of thousands of bottles every day (The Re-ly-on Bottler).

The glass bottles would only interact with machinery through the entire process. First starting with a three-compartment soaking machine, bottles were soaked in three different baths of a caustic soda solution to sanitize the bottles. After being submerged in the super-heated baths at 110, 120 and 130 degrees, they were rinsed out via automatic washing machines that cycled between brushing and rinsing (The Re-ly-on Bottler). Freshly cleaned out, the bottles were then filled with the various carbonated beverages of the Phillips’ Brothers line of products. Most known for their ginger ale, the company also produced sarsaparilla and lemon, orange, and chocolate soda, as well as cola. 

Figure D: Examples of bottle paper labels for the company’s ginger ale and sarsaparilla soda brands from a private collection.
Figure E: A wooden bottle crate from the bottling company from a private collection.

The bottles were then sealed using the innovative lightning closure first patented by Charles De Quillfeldt on January 5th, 1875 before Karl Hutter took over the patent and popularized the design in 1877. This stopper design revolutionized the bottling industry as the seal created by leveraging a rubber disk into the lip of the bottle proved a reliable sealing system (von Mechow 2018).   

Figure F: The trade-mark logo of the Phillips Brothers Bottling Company stamped on a porcelain Hutter lightning bottle closure seal.
Figure G: The bottom of the same porcelain seal bears the K. Hutter name and patent date of “Feb 3 1893”.

References

American Bottler. 1920. Volume 30. Web accessed March 24, 2020.

Champion Beverages Well Named; Efficient Baltimore Company Has Catchy Slogan. The Re-ly-on Bottler: A Magazine of Idea and Ideals for the Bottling Trade. 1922. The International Cork Co. Volumes 3-6. Web accessed March 5, 2020.

The Official Gazette of the United States Patent Office. 1945. Volume 581.

Von Mechow, Tod. 2018. Bottle Attributes – Beer Bottle Closures. Soda & Beer Bottles of North America. Website accessed March 23, 2020.

Prohibition, Beer and Baltimore


Figure 1. Beer bottle dated c. 1910 from the
Monumental Brewing Company of Baltimore, Maryland.

As I perused social media and news feeds early in January, I kept coming across stories about the benefits of a dry January. An alcohol-free month was not in my cards, however, because an early January archaeological conference meant lots of social beers with colleagues. 

One hundred years ago this month, in January of 1920, citizens of the United States began to experience a long, dry period as Prohibition got underway. Congress passed the 18th Amendment in October of 1919, following it on January 16, 1920 with the passage of the Volstead Act, designed to enforce Prohibition.  The amendment made it illegal to produce, transport and sell alcohol in the United States. With the exception of Maryland, every U.S. state passed state-level versions of the Volstead Act (Walsh 2017).

Resistance to Prohibition was strong in Maryland, which had elected “wet” governor Albert Ritchie in 1920 (Ciammachilli 2019). This resistance even earned Maryland its nickname of the “Free State” in 1922 (Walsh 2017). Lawmakers in Baltimore especially opposed Prohibition.  Despite opposition within the city, however, the effects of the ban on alcohol were almost immediate, with the closing of bars, saloons and breweries (Levy 2016).  Of Baltimore, the American newspaper wrote that “gloom fell over the wet trade” (cited in Walsh 2017).

Baltimore has always been a city of breweries. The city’s first breweries were established in the first half of the 18th century and produced British-style ales. The bird’s eye view of the city shown on the 1869 Sasche Map illustrates at least 15 breweries, some of them with beer gardens. This preponderance of breweries can be traced back to the increasing German immigration, beginning in the 1840s. Germans brought with them a love of lighter lager beers, whose production began to predominate in the city’s beer manufacturing.  

Figure 2. Illustration of George Bauernschmidt’s brewery as shown on the 1869 Sasche Map of Baltimore. Baurenschmidt opened his brewery in 1864 and remained in operation until 1898, when he and a number of other breweries consolidated into the American Brewery Company. Digital version of the map available at https://www.loc.gov/resource/g3844b.pm002540/?r=0.093,0.004,0.101,0.062,0.

Beer bottles are a common find at archaeological sites, beginning in the second half of the 19th century.  The Monumental Brewing Company bottle shown in Figure 1 was found in a privy sealed around 1910 at the Federal Reserve Site (18BC27) in the Otterbein neighborhood of Baltimore.  The Monumental Brewing Company opened in 1900, but went out of business in 1920, at the start of Prohibition.  

Baltimore’s breweries reacted in one of two ways during Prohibition.  Some manufacturers, including the National Brewing Company and the American Brewery, went out of business (Levy 2016).  Others, like Gunther and Globe, managed to keep their doors open by manufacturing “near” beers—beverages that contained less than one half of one percent of alcohol by volume (Levy 2016).

General opinion holds that Prohibition was a failure (Buck 2013). Alcohol consumption was only moderately reduced by the legal restrictions, while organized crime centered on the illegal production and sale of alcohol soared.  Opposed to the 18th Amendment, Baltimore writer H. L. Mencken famously wrote, “there is not less drunkenness in the Republic, but more”. The U.S. ban against the production, transportation and sale of alcohol was ultimately to last for 13 years. In 1933, the 21st Amendment ended Prohibition, making the 18th Amendment the only constitutional amendment ever repealed in our country.  Baltimore’s breweries rebounded and are still successful today.

References

Buck, Betty. 2013. The Failed Experiment of Prohibition.  Baltimore Sun.  Website accessed January 27, 2020 at https://www.baltimoresun.com/opinion/op-ed/bs-ed-beer-20131204-story.html.

Ciammachilli, Esther.  2019.  Booze!  Causing Political Fights in Maryland for 100 Years.  WAMU 88.5 American University Radio, March 4, 2019.  Website accessed January 27, 2020 at https://wamu.org/story/19/03/04/booze-causing-political-fights-in-maryland-for-100-years/.

Levy, Sidney.  2016. Lost City:  Local Taverns and Big Breweries. Underbelly. Maryland Historical Society.  February 18, 2016.  Website accessed January 27, 2020 at http://www.mdhs.org/underbelly/2016/02/18/lost-city-local-taverns-and-big-breweries/.

Walsh, Michael T. 2017. Baltimore Prohibition:  Wet and Dry in the Free State. American Palate; A Division of the History Press, Charleston, S.C.

A Fish for All Times – Atlantic Menhaden’s Long History in the Chesapeake



Figure 1. Mid-nineteenth century barrel excavated at the Brown’s Wharf site (18BC59).  Photograph courtesy of the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Lab.

During the Baltimore Center for Urban Archaeology’s 1987 excavation of the Brown’s Wharf site (18BC59), archaeologists uncovered an unusual find—a complete wooden barrel whose staves were held together with split tree branch bands (Figures 1 and 2).  Barrels like this one, which dated to the mid-nineteenth century, were used for storing virtually anything, including grain, salted meat, cider, whale oil and dried and pickled fish.  And indeed, removing the soil filling the interior of this barrel, revealed – among other items like a metal funnel, a shoe, rope and a broken champagne bottle—sixty menhaden (Figure 3), whose bodies had been preserved in a tarry substance (Stevens 1989).

The Atlantic menhaden (Brevoortia tyrannus) is a native North American schooling fish in the herring family, ranging from Nova Scotia to Florida (Figure 4).  Small and oily, menhaden are not considered an appetizing meal for humans, but are prey for larger fish like weakfish, striped bass and bluefish. Menhaden’s primary food source is phytoplankton.

Figure 2. Unidentified archaeologist excavating the Brown’s Wharf barrel. Photo courtesy of the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Lab.

Menhaden have had a long and important history for the Chesapeake Bay region. Although long used by Native Americans as fertilizer, perhaps the earliest written record of menhaden was penned by Captain John Smith, who described them as “lying so thick with their heads above the water, as for want of nets (our barge driving amongst them) we attempted to catch them with a frying pan.” (Smith 1624).  Although not favored as a human food, menhaden have been used in paint, as a bait fish, for fertilizer, as animal feed, in human dietary supplements and as lamp oil (Chesapeake Bay Foundation 2019).  Large numbers of processing plants sprang up along the Atlantic coast for converting menhaden into these valuable products.

Figure 3: BCUA curator Louis Akerson and archaeologist Scott Simmons examining the contents of the barrel. Reprinted from The Evening Sun, Perry E. Thorsvik.

Almost four hundred years later, a time-traveling John Smith would be disheartened at the menhaden population in the Chesapeake Bay.  Once menhaden oil began to replace whale oil for lighting and as an industrial lubricant in the late nineteenth century, menhaden populations began to decline (Franklin 2008; Chesapeake Bay Foundation 2019). These numbers continued to plummet as overharvesting went on throughout the twentieth century, with the menhaden fishery being the largest in the Atlantic.

Some conservationists refer to menhaden as “the most important fish in the sea”, since they form a vital part of the marine food web (Franklin 2008).  With menhaden numbers depleted, populations of phytoplankton, “a major cause of algae blooms and brown tides” (Carini 2017), explode, to the detriment of the coastal waters.  Studies by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) have shown the striped bass population suffering malnutrition because of the reduced menhaden population (Chesapeake Bay Foundation 2019).

Figure 4. The Atlantic menhaden (Brevoortia tyrannus). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Brevoortia_tyrannus1.jpg, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1674101

In an attempt to curb population reduction, the ASMFC voted in 2012 to cap the harvest of menhaden at 20 percent less than the previous three year’s catch (Carini 2017).  A population study completed in 2017 showed that menhaden numbers are increasing, but still not at levels considered healthy for the ecology of the Atlantic coastal ecosystem (Chesapeake Bay Foundation 2019; Carini 2017). Since the Chesapeake Bay is the source of almost 87% of the menhaden harvested in the Atlantic (with Virginia fisherman allocated over 85% of the harvest), the population recovery has not been as successful in the Bay (Dunn 2017).  Although small in size, menhaden loom large in the overall health of the Chesapeake Bay’s ecosystem and conservation measures need to continue.

References

Carini, Frank.  2017.  Menhaden:  The Most Important Fish at the Moment.  EcoRI News.  Website site accessed July 30, 2019 at https://www.ecori.org/aquaculture/2017/11/10/menhaden-the-most-important-fish-that-the-moment.

Chesapeake Bay Foundation.  2019.  Atlantic Menhaden; the Chesapeake’s Unsung Hero.  Chesapeake Bay Foundation. Website accessed July 30, 2019 at https://www.cbf.org/about-the-bay/more-than-just-the-bay/chesapeake-wildlife/menhaden/.

Dunn, Joel.  2017.  Bay’s History Depended on Menhaden; Its Future Will as Well.  The Bay Journal.  Website accessed July 30, 2019 at https://www.bayjournal.com/article/bays_history_depended_on_menhaden_its_future_will_as_well.

Franklin, H. Bruce.  2008. The Most Important Fish in the Sea: Menhaden and America.  Island Press, Washington, D. C.

Smith, Captain John.  1624. The Generall Historie of Virginia, New England & the Summer Isles. I.D and I. H. for Michael Sparkes, London.  Electronic version available at https://docsouth.unc.edu/southlit/smith/smith.html.

Stevens, Kristen L.  1989.  An Investigation of the Archaeological Resources Associated with the Brown’s Wharf Site (18BC59) on Thames Street, Baltimore, Maryland.  Baltimore Center for Urban Archaeology Research Series No. 28.  On file at MHT.

Ouija, The Wonderful Talking Board– a Baltimore Original


Figure 1.   Metal game board spinner from the Aged Home for Colored Men and Women, Baltimore. Photo courtesy of the MAC Lab.

Winter is still upon us and what better way to spend a cold, dark evening than settled by the fire with a board game and a few friends?  Whenever I visit my 30-something nieces and nephews, we make sure to schedule time for a game night (which usually turns quite raucous as the evening progresses!).  Board and card game popularity has been on the rise over the last eight years, driven largely by millennials (Graham 2016).  It will come as no surprise to readers that this recent upsurge in interest is part of a long history of board games.

The period between the 1880s and the 1920s has been described as the “Golden Age” of board games in America (Hofer 2003).  Their popularity was enhanced by mass production, which made games inexpensive and easily available.  The game board spinner shown in Figure 1 was found among other artifacts from an 1870-1910 Methodist Episcopal retirement home for African American men and women. 

Not many people realize that Ouija, a board game still popular today, was invented in Baltimore in the late nineteenth century.  We’ve all come under its spell at one time or another – usually, I suspect, as young and impressionable children.  Who hasn’t fallen under the lure of a hushed candlelit room, a tingling spine and a table set with a Ouija board and its promise to put us in touch with the departed? 

Figure 2. The popularity of Ouija was celebrated on the cover of the
Saturday Evening Post in 1920.

The Ouija board was created by Elijah Bond, a Baltimore attorney, and produced by the Kennard Novelty Company.  Several years prior, spiritualists in the Midwest had begun using “talking boards” as a means to make communication with the deceased easier to understand (McRobbie 2013).  These talking boards were the precursors of the product Bond and his partners patented in 1891.  The Ouija board contains all the letters of the alphabet, numbers from 0 to 9, and the words “yes”, “no” and “goodbye”.  When players put their fingers on a small heart-shaped wooden or metal piece called a planchette, spiritual forces will guide them to letters and numbers spelling out a message from the beyond (Figure 3).  And Ouija was instantly popular: by 1892, the Kennard Novelty Company had gone from one factory to six: with two factories in Baltimore and the others in Chicago, New York and London. 

The invention of Ouija and its popularity can be attributed to the rise of belief in spiritualism in Victorian America and Britain (McRobbie 2013).  In America, this movement began in the late 1840s when the three Fox sisters convinced people of their ability to communicate with the deceased.  Adherents of Spiritualism believed such communication was possible and engaged in this activity through seances, automatic writing or gatherings where participants were seated around a table that would spin or shake through no apparent human intervention.  Some of the great intellectuals of the nineteenth century, including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, evolutionary biologist Alfred Russel Wallace and Charles Dickens were believers in spiritualism.  Queen Victoria participated in seances after the 1861 death of her husband, Prince Albert, and was said to have received messages from him (Diniejko 2016).  Mary Todd Lincoln sought the assistance of spiritualists after the death of her son, William, in the early 1860s.

Figure 3. Players placed their fingers on the planchett and waited for spirits to guide it to spell out a message. Photo courtesy of Bettman/Corbis.

While the Spiritualism movement lost energy later in the nineteenth century as mediums were exposed as frauds, the popularity of Ouija board has waxed and waned over the years.  In times of economic uncertainty or turmoil, such as the years around World War I and during the Great Depression, the popularity of the Ouija surged.  Some people believed that the Ouija board was a bad influence and a court case was held in the 1920s to determine if it was a toy (Thorpe 2018). 

Unfortunately, no shaped wooden pieces that formed the earliest game planchets have been recovered to date from Baltimore archaeological sites, but it is surely just a matter of time before one is pulled from a privy or cellar.


Figure 4.  Elijah Bond’s Ouija-themed tombstone in Baltimore’s Green Mount cemetery. https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/elijah-bond-s-ouija-board-grave.

Although Elijah Bond divested himself of his interest in the Kennard Novelty Company by 1893 (McRobbie 2013), Ouija boards continued to be made in Baltimore until 1966.  Bond died in 1921 and was buried in a grave whose location was lost over the years.  Ouija board collector and founder of The Talking Board Historical Society Robert Murch spearheaded an effort to relocate Bond’s unmarked grave in Baltimore’s Green Mount Cemetery (Atlas Obscura 2019). Around 2007, Bond’s grave received a new and entirely appropriate head stone (Figure 4).

Interest in Ouija continues; in 2012 the Baltimore Museum of Industry held a temporary exhibit entitled “Let The Spirit Move You: Ouija, Baltimore’s Mystifying Oracle” and the Ouija board played a big role in the 2016 movie thriller Ouija, the Origin of Evil.

References

Atlas Obscura.  2019.  Elijah Bond’s Ouija Board Grave. Atlas Obscura. Website accessed February 26, 2019 at https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/elijah-bond-s-ouija-board-grave.

Diniejko, Andrzej.  2016.  Victorian Spiritualism.  The Victorian Web; literature, history & culture in the age of Victoria.  Website accessed February 27, 2019 at http://www.victorianweb.org/victorian/religion/spirit.html.

Graham, Luke.  2016.  Millennials are Driving the Board Games Revival.  CNBC.  December 22, 2016.  at https://www.cnbc.com/2016/12/22/millennials-the-board-games-revival-catan-pandemic.html. Hofer, Margaret.  2003.  The Games We Played: The Golden Age of Board & Table Games. New York:  Princeton Architectural Press.

McRobbie, Linda Rodriquez.  2013. The Strange and Mysterious History of the Ouija Board.  Smithsonian. com.  Website accessed February 27, 2019 at https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-strange-and-mysterious-history-of-the-ouija-board-5860627/.

Thorpe, J. R.  2018.  The History of Ouija Boards, Where They Come From, & Why They’re So Freaking Creepy.  Bustle.com. Website accessed February 27, 2019 at https://www.bustle.com/p/the-history-of-ouija-boards-where-they-come-from-why-theyre-so-freaking-creepy-12279291.

Oblate Sisters of Providence: The First Order of African-American Nuns


This post was written by former MAC Lab volunteer Lauren Morrell.  Thank you, Lauren!

18CH216-Lot28

Front: Written in French, “O MARIE CONÇUE SANS PÉCHÉ PRIEZ POUR NOUS QUI AVONS RECOURS À VOUS” (Translation: O Mary conceived without sin pray for us who have recourse to thee) around the Virgin Mary with rays emitting from her hands.
Back: 
Miraculous Medal motif showing the letter “M” with a cross over it, and under both are the Sacred Heart of Jesus with a crown of thorns, and the Sacred Heart of Mary pierced by a sword. Courtesy U.S. Army Garrison, Adelphi Laboratory Center.

This miraculous medal — a medallion that many Catholics believe was inspired by the Virgin Mary — was uncovered at Blossom Point farm in Charles County, Maryland (18CH216). The farm was part of St. Thomas Manor, which was patented in 1649 by Thomas Matthews and Father Thomas Copley, who were members of the Jesuit community. St. Thomas Manor has been owned by the Jesuits since then. The farm was rented to short-term tenants after the Civil War and this medal, which postdates 1832, was probably owned by one of the tenants.

Maryland has a long history with the Catholic religion. Founded in 1634 by Catholic Lord Baltimore, the colony became known as the cradle of Catholicity (Pyne 2008). The first Catholic church in the English Colonies was constructed in St. Mary’s City in 1667 (The Chapel of St Mary’s City, 2019). By the founding of the country, roughly ten percent of Maryland’s population were openly practicing Catholics, of which nearly 20 percent were slaves (Pyne 2008).

Baltimore has the distinction of being the birthplace of a Catholic religious institute that broke both racial and gender social norms. The Oblate Sisters of Providence were the first permanent community of Roman Catholic Sisters of African descent in the world; their mission is to “renounce the world to consecrate themselves to God and to Christian education of young girls of color” (Posey 1994). The title, Oblate Sisters of Providence, was given October 2, 1831, by Papal recognition as an official Catholic organization.

The community began in 1828 when Elizabeth Lange, a free woman of color, and Father James Nicholas Joubert, a white Frenchman, bonded over their shared French culture, Caribbean refugee status, devotion to the Catholic faith, and their commitment to providing education to black children (Morrow 1997).

Elizabeth Lange was born in the Caribbean around 1784.

lange-med_290_282

Mother Mary Elizabeth Lange

She immigrated to Baltimore in 1813, joining the growing community of free people of African descent. Baltimore, at the time, was the “free black capital” of 19th-century America, with a vibrant and involved community (Morrow 2000). Elizabeth saw a need to educate French- speaking children, so she and another Caribbean emigrant, Mary Balas, opened a school for children in their home (Morrow 2000). Continue reading

Beer in Baltimore – Two and Half Centuries of Sudsy Brews


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The Natty Boh man atop Natty Boh Towers.

Baltimore is a city known for its breweries and is not afraid to show it – driving into the city on Route 95, travelers are sure to see the mustachioed Natty Boh man winking at them from the top of Natty Boh Tower.  National Bohemian beer, for which the Natty Boh man was named, was first brewed in Baltimore by the National Brewing Company in 1885.  Baltimore’s love affair with sudsy brews goes as far back as the mid-eighteenth century.  The first brewery began operation in Baltimore in 1748; since that time, over 115 breweries have operated in the city (Arnett et al. 1999:274).

In 1983, the newly-formed Baltimore Center for Urban Archaeology conducted an excavation at the site of the former Clagett’s Brewery, at the corner of President and Lombard Streets.  Thomas Peters opened the Baltimore Strong Beer Brewery in 1784, locating his operation along Jones Falls to take advantage of the water available for brewing the ales and beers, for carrying away brewery waste products and for constructing a wharf for export of his products.  The brewery operated under as many as ten owners (including Eli Clagett) until 1880, when the property was sold to the Maryland Burial Case Company (Akerson 1990).

tiles

Two of the malting tiles found at the Clagett’s Brewery site.  The tile on the left shows the malting floor surface side, while the tile on the right shows the underside, with the deep cell structure.

In addition to discovering the foundation of the brewery’s malthouse, and the on-site brick townhome and privy of Peters and his family, a number of artifacts related to the brewery operations were discovered during the 1983 excavation.  Several dumps of nineteenth-century bottles, surely used for the brewery products, were uncovered.  More unusual were over three dozen perforated unglazed ceramic tiles used as flooring for the malting kiln.  Manufactured in Bridgewater, England by two different companies in operation in the second and third quarters of the nineteenth century, each tile measures one-foot square and contained 1600 small holes (Bromwich 1984).  These holes allowed hot air to enter the drying room from the floor below, preventing the sprouted barley from growing so that it could be used to produce malt (Comer et al. 1984). Continue reading

Keeping Clean in Charm City – The Rise of the Public Bathhouse in Baltimore


BaltimorePrivyDemijohnCologneBottle

Figure 1. Perfume bottle molded in the shape of a wicker covered demijohn.  Bottle dates c. 1845-1865.

This tiny and incredibly fragile perfume bottle, discovered in a Baltimore privy during the 1980 excavation at the future site of the Federal Reserve Bank, was made by the Boston & Sandwich Glass Company of Sandwich, Massachusetts (Boston and Sandwich 2017). The company operated between the years 1826 and 1888, producing blown and pressed glass containers (Barlow and Kaiser 1998).  Measuring only three inches tall, this bottle was molded in the shape of a much larger bottle called a carboy or demijohn. These bottles, ranging in size from 5 to 16 gallons and used to transport bulk liquids like vinegar or acid, were covered in woven wicker to prevent breakage. This little cologne bottle, with its wicker molded surface, dates between circa 1845 and 1865.

Early-19th-c.-bath-thesun.uk_

Figure 2. Bathing before the advent of running water and plumbing involved hauling and heating large quantities of water. 

In Victorian America, personal cleanliness was viewed as a symbol of upstanding character and self-respect.  In America’s crowded cities, it was also an important public health matter.  Wearing perfume or toilet water could certainly help cover body odor, but there was much to be said for bathing as a way to improve personal sanitation and health. Before the days of running water and plumbing, many people kept clean through what we would call today a “sponge bath”, using basins of water or small hip baths.  In 1893, only 7.35% of the families in Baltimore lived in a house with an indoor bathroom. Fortunately for the rest of Baltimore’s citizens, public bathing facilities were soon to be a part of the city’s amenities.

Since at least Roman times, public baths have been a feature of urban life, but the public bath movement in North America did not begin until the mid-19th century and it gathered momentum late in that century. In fact, before the Victorian era, many western cultures actually believed that submersion in water would open the pores up to disease and sickness. Increasing immigration from Europe and crowded living situations in American cities created a critical need for public bathing facilities. North American cities were far behind their European counterparts in providing bath houses. The first year-round public bath opened in Yonkers, New York in 1896 (Piwinski 2011).   Baltimore lagged behind cities like New York and Boston, with its first public bath houses, administered by the city, not appearing until the turn of the 20th century (Williams 1991:28).  Continue reading