In America today, showering daily is a social norm. We avoid body odor, grease, and sweat, and consider such qualities unhygienic or “gross.” We also consider the technologies behind the daily shower – bathrooms, sewers, and heating systems – and the parts that construct them – valves and pipes – to be commonplace. Their omnipresence makes them unlikely to warrant a second thought. Despite this, our methods of cleaning ourselves have social, commercial, and even political implications.
Mass-produced valves, showers, and water heaters have only appeared in the past century. Crane Company, an American manufacturer of pipes, fittings, and valves, boasts on its website that in the 1920s it “conceive[d] the idea of the modern bathroom,” designating the American bathroom as “a sign of affluence and social pride.” The bathrooms we use today are really only a century old, as are the norms associated with them.
Over the 1920s, Crane Co. advertisers created concepts like “body odor” to form a consumer base for their new product: bathroom fixtures. Through magazine advertisements and bathroom showrooms, bathrooms became increasingly prevalent, and daily showers more common. Skyscrapers, factories, and hospitals all began to include water supply and sewer systems.