Bathing Machines of The 19th Century

 In the 18th and 19th centuries, women could not take off their swimwear and run to the waves on the beach. There are certain etiquettes on the seashore that should be followed and decorum should be maintained. Seeing themselves in bathing costumes by members of the opposite sex was certainly not one of them.

To help women maintain their dignity and modesty, a simple contraption called the "bath machine" was developed. A bathing machine resembles a wooden changing room commonly seen on beaches, but is larger in size, and is raised and turned inward on wheels. The woman entered the small room of the bathing machine while she was on the beach, wearing her street clothes. In the secrecy of the machine, she would change into her bathing dress, which was very modest by today's standards, and store her street clothes in a raised compartment where they would stay dry.

The bathing machine was propelled through the water by horses and sometimes by human power. Once the car was away, one would exit the box using a door away from prying eyes on the beach. Some machines were equipped with canvas tents that could be lowered into the water to create a private bathing area for the swimmer. The swimmer was usually carried by a strong woman called a dipper, whose job was to assist the woman in and out of the machine. It was not uncommon for a swimmer to be pushed into the water, and then pulled out, and was considered an acceptable part of the experience. If the bather could not swim, a strong rope was tied around his waist and attached to the end of the van to ensure that he would not be swept away by the currents.

Bath machines began in Great Britain around 1750 and spread to the United States, France, and Germany. Its invention is often attributed to Benjamin Beale, a Quaker and a glove and breeches maker, who lived in Margate, a coastal seaside resort in England. But this is not true. There is evidence of the existence of the bathing machine at least fifteen years ago. However, Benjamin Biel contributed to the design of the bath machine. The covered canvas hood that could be attached to the back of bath machines, and lowered down to cover the swimmer's modesty, was his invention.

In the early days, before Victorian prides took hold, it was actually common for men and women to swim naked. As moral values ​​changed, nude swimming and even mixed bathing became indecent. The legal segregation of bathing areas finally ended in Britain in 1901, and bathing machines declined rapidly. During their declining days, and with relaxed bathing laws, men and women were often seen riding together in these machines. By the early 1920s, bath machines became extinct.

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