If you took a bath today, thank a pig



Seriously. If you took a bath today (and we all hope you did), thank a pig. Actually, you should thank a pig farmer. Sort of.


Okay, not a pig, and not a pig farmer. You should thank the state of Wisconsin and its city Sheboygan, and the foundry it once had that was bought by John Michael Kohler and his partner Charles Silberzahn in 1873, who founded a company called Kohler & Silberzahn, which made farm equipment, including big tubs used as watering troughs and hog scalders.



I guess we also have to be thankful for the fire that burned down that original foundry seven years later because Kohler added an enameling shop when he rebuilt. Now he could cover his cast-iron troughs with a protective coat of enamel.


Three years later in 1883, Kohler came up with the idea of selling an enameled hog scalder as a bathtub. In exchange, he supposedly received a cow and 14 chickens. I’m curious about what gave Kohler the idea. He must have been on farms and seen hogs immersed in those tubs. Did one of the hogs remind him of someone he knew? History would be a lot more interesting if we had the answers to questions like that.



From that point on, Kohler focused on enameled bathroom fixtures. In 1911 the company introduced a built-in, one-piece tub, and the rest of us have been awash in their products since then.


I had no intention of writing about bathtubs today. Although I manage to get in hot water on a regular basis, I hardly ever take a bath. I prefer showers.


I started out today planning to write something about the word “bubbler,” Wisconsin talk for drinking fountain. It seems that Kohler is responsible for that, too; he put the capital “B” in the word when he trademarked it in 1889. Now it’s used generically, mostly in Wisconsin but also in Rhode Island, eastern Connecticut, southeastern Massachusetts, and Australia. In my experience, I’ve never heard anyone pronounce it with the capital, but then I’ve never been to Sheboygan.


In spite of its usage in both the U.S. and Australia, neither the Oxford English Dictionary nor the Cambridge Dictionary Online has an entry for “bubbler.” Merriam Webster Online and the Random House Dictionary (dictionary.com) give one of its meanings as “a drinking fountain that spouts water.”



If you go to Kohler’s website, you’ll find at least 53 different bathtubs: rectangular, circular, key-hole shaped, kidney-shaped, free-standing, sunken, and jet-streamed. They still make the Bubbler, too. Americans love their tubs and drinking fountain; go to Facebook and you’ll find that bathtub and Bubbler have their own Facebook pages. I also discovered that Pig scalder is on Facebook. In one of instances that proves that history sometimes moves backwards, it mentions that in New Zealand some farmers use their old cast-iron bathtubs for hog scalding.



Posters courtesy of http://blog.kohler.com/2011/05/18/the-one-piece-bath-turns-100/

36 thoughts on “If you took a bath today, thank a pig

    • I see my tag said “hog scolder.” I could blame it on spell-check, which doesn’t think much of the word “scolder,” but that would be hog wash. I have half a mind to leave it, and that half of mind of mine is probably responsible for it. You never know when someone might be googling “hog scolder.”

      Thanks for reading.

  1. Thanks for a wonderful history lesson today, yearstricken. I suppose I have to blame the lack of familiarity with hogs here in Israel, for the fact that every bathtub I’ve ever had seemed too small… either that, or I am bigger than a hog… and I prefer not to contemplate that possibility.

    • I didn’t do any research about bathtubs elsewhere; I’m sure some other countries have interesting stories about their bathtubs.

      We had very deep but somewhat short bathtubs in Japan that were perfect for soaking in. Of course there, you wash yourself completely before you get in, so the water stays clean.

  2. I found it an amazing testament to your research ability that you were able to complete this entire fascinating history of the hog scalding apparatus without a single reference to Wiki. You must possess a keen eye for gathering pertinent facts. Or your computer broke.

    However, I must insist that I never hear the words “hogs” and “scalding” in the same sentence again. My sensitive sensibilities cannot handle the visual. I guess that blows that whole “Gee, I wish I had grown up on a farm” thing all to hell. Of course, I never said “pig” farm. I just had visions of rolling hills and happy baby chicks and little girls in pig tails.

    Great, now I have a vision of a little girl in pigtails watching hogs getting scalded. Apparently the tails fall off after the scalding, and they stick them to the side of the head of every little girl on the farm. You really know how to add a bit of visual delicacy to an otherwise quiet Sunday afternoon. I may never recover. Perhaps a bath will help.

    • I love your comment, and up until now, never gave too much thought to where those little farm girls got their pigtails. Can I just say that you are brilliant.

      I found so much information on the web, I didn’t need to rely on Wiki. Kohler doles out some of its history, but if you want the whole hog as it were, you have to dole out almost $70. Who brings home that kind of bacon?

      I sure hope you enjoy your bath.

    • I would like to soak in the tub more if I could clean off first like the Japanese do. Their bathrooms have tile floors with drains so you can get completely clean before you get in.

  3. I feel like I have never adequately expressed my thanks to pigs for ham . . . and now you pile this on top of that? Thanks for adding to my burdens of gratitude. I’m beholden to you.

  4. I don’t have a Kohler bathtub. However, I will think of you every time I sit on my Kohler toilet. I’m not sure I would be flattered by that promise, however.

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