Why are Birthday Cakes Round … and Porcelain Tubs Oblong?

By Kerry Knight

Have you ever wondered how the tradition of the birthday cake originated?  

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Believe it or not, it was in ancient Greece. Within the temple of Artemis, who was the Greek’s Goddess of the Moon, worshippers would bring honey cakes to honor the goddess, in the round shape of the moon. They would also place one or more candles on the cake to represent the light reflected from the moon.  

The tradition didn’t reappear in historical records until the Middle Ages in Europe where the Germans were given credit for the first “birthday cake.”  Young children were awakened on their birthday and presented with the round cake.  Only in this tradition, the candles represented the light of life.  The child was told to make a wish, then blow out the candles.  If they revealed their wish to anyone, the wish wouldn’t come true.   Likewise, if they failed to blow out all the candles, the wish would fail.   

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Unfortunately, there’s no solid precedence as to how this part of the tradition got started.  But that’s the way it is with many traditions; they continue to get embellished with more folklore, customs and various and practices as the years pass.

Now, if you want to get mischievous and break an age-old tradition, bake a triagnular cake.  But just remember, Artemis may not like that.

Why Oblong Tubs? 

Birthday cakes are round (okay, sometimes rectangular), porcelain tubs are oblong.  Yes, there are round bathtubs, rectangular ones, square ones, but most of them are oblong.  There’s a reason.  The beautiful cast iron and porcelain tubs that date back to the Victorian period were created not just for bathing, but also for comfort. And here, the oblong shape did the trick.  

Several popular styles were created: 

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The Traditional Roll Top is the style that most people have seen and most of today’s seniors remember.  The tubs had a slope on one end for reclining and the flat end for the plumbing fixtures.  When they came along, they replaced a wash bowl and pitcher, which most of our pioneer families used to “wash up” (see our previous blog, “Bathtubs in the Old West.”)  Submerging in warm water was a luxury that few enjoyed.  If there was a creek or pond nearby, that was your bathtub.  During winter months bathing was more marginal.  There were a few metal tubs, like tin or zinc, but most people just went without bathing.  No wonder they were eager for spring time to arrive. Spring cleaning also entailed being able to take a long-needed bath.  

The Slipper Tub offered a taller, sloped end to give a more dramatic sweep to the tub.  It was a huge success and had the look of a foot Slipper.  The plumbing end was rounded.  This elegant shape became popular among the aristocracy of France and England.  There was typically no plumbing involved.  Servants would heat water over an open fire and then carry pails of hot water and fill the tub.  They would continue to bring more hot water as the water began to cool.  That’s because those thin metal tubs would not keep the water warm for very long.

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The Dual-Ended Tub had a slope on both ends, so that the bather could choose either end for reclining.  This tub became an object of beauty and was a tub that was often displayed in the open.  It was also handy if two people chose to use it at the same time.

The Double Slipper Tub had the high slope on both ends of the tub with the drain and faucet centered in the middle of the tub.  It was by far the most elegant, gracious, and beautiful of all the designs.  This masterpiece of bathtub design was only used by the wealthiest.

There is one thing they all had in common: they were all oblong- shaped, designed for comfort.  The bather could lean back and relax in warm water for a longer period of time.

 A Bath a Day Keeps the Doctor Away

Along with the obvious comforts of luxuriating and relaxing in a nice warm bath, there were/are also definitive health benefits.  In addition to making one less odiferous, regular cleaning of our skin helps keep it healthy. Considering that our skin is the largest functioning “organ” of the human body, that’s a good thing. 

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In fact, warm water soaking has been a therapy since the beginning of recorded history. During more primitive times, warm water was thought to carry curative properties. The bath houses of ancient Greece and ancient Rome are a testament to that.  Many would come there to treat almost any malady.  The ruins of these bath houses are still being unearthed by archaeologists in many places throughout the world.

Today, we’re finding more and more advantages to using warm water to treat a plethora of human conditions.  Relaxing in an oblong-shaped tub can help with:
  • Poor circulation
  • Chronic back pain
  • Joint discomfort
  • Neuropathy
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Arthritis
  • Insomnia

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In addition to helping you live better, water treatment may help you live longer. “Just sitting in hot water up to your neck aids cardiovascular health,” says Bruce E. Becker, M.D., clinical professor of the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine at the University of Washington.  He adds, “The ultimate purpose of the heart as an organ is to pump blood in response to physiological demand, so its best measure of performance is volume of blood pumped per unit of time.  Immediately after a person is immersed in a tub or pool, water begins to exert pressure on the body.  Cardiac volume increases by nearly one-third with immersion to the neck.”  Simply put, this means your heart gets a cardiovascular kick start just from sitting in a warm tub; this does not occur when you’re sedentary and dry.  Hydrotherappy can also be beneficial for certain pets such as dogs, and if you can find one like "Soggy Moggy," even cats (see "Related Articles" below).

Since the body weighs less in the water, it takes the strain off injured or worn out parts of the body.  The warm water then relaxes and soothes aching or tired muscles and joints.  Just lean back in one of these porcelain tubs, and you’ll be tempted to fall asleep.

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So porcelain tubs are oblong-shaped for your body’s comfort and your overall health.  They disappeared from the public about 75 years ago, but are now making a resplendent comeback. We regularly ship these tubs throughout North America and beyond.

Tub King, Inc. offers these beautiful Roll Top, Slipper Tubs, Double Slippers, and Dual-ended styles today at fantastic prices.  The cast iron exterior speaks to their durability.  The porcelain interior is a testament to their beauty.  We can also custom-color the tub’s exterior and interior for your specific interior design needs. 

We now have a new exterior painting process, which we proudly call our “Artisan Series” (see our previous blog “Are You Looking for a Bathtub That Really Stands Out?”) These feature the ever-popular Slipper tubs in elegant Hammered Copper and Hammered Steel models. 

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In this article, I talked about the history of the beloved birthday cake and the advent of oblong bathtubs. Ialso discussed several different porcelain tub shapes and touched upon some of the many benefits that can be obtained from sitting in a warm, oblong-shaped bathtub.

If you found this article useful, please share it with your family, friends and co-workers. If you have a comment related to this article, leave it in the Comment section of this blog. 

Thanks again for visiting with us.

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Alan and Kerry Knight are the owners of Tub King, Inc., and SeniorBathtub.com  in Jacksonville, Florida. Together they have many years of experience in the antique and senior bathtub industries. Their companies not only provide superior products, they are also award winners, receiving the “Best of Jacksonville Chamber Award” four years running. If you’d like to contact them, call (800) 409-3375 or (800) 843-4231; or send an email to Alan@tubking.com.

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