Saturday, July 18, 2009

When Bath Tubs Were Optional: 1914

Kind readers may remember that when the municipal water service opened up in 1898 down in present-day Water Works Park, the resulting water bills were unbelievably baroque. One gets the impression that the organizers had no idea how to bill people efficiently and just made up a list of every possible use for water (cow, barber chair, particular make of toilet, &c.) and then slapped a price on it.

By 1914, the billing scheme was simpler, but the water rates still reveal interesting tidbits about 1914 Ypsilanti. You can see, for example, that horses and cars are co-existing on the streets downtown. The puzzling part is that cars are charged as much for water as horses.

Every day, horses drink from around 6 gallons (quiet horse on a temperate day) to 18 gallons (working horse on a hot day). Even at the lower end, why in the Sam Hill would any car need 6 gallons of water a day? Or was this a sort of "luxury tax"? Perhaps the water works figgered that if some folks could blow money on one of those new-fangled "machines," as they were called in the papers, they could easily shell out a bit more for the water bill. Mebbe this is also why the water for a fancy-schmancy "lawn" costs more than for an entire "store"!

I think "Domestic" on the bill means "household," and not "servant." Note please that IF you have a bathtub, it's extra--meaning many folks did not have a tub at home*. Even a flippin' wash bowl is extra! When did people get clean, as in super-scrubbed clean, in 1914? I also note that either a roomer in your house renting a sleeping room, OR a boarder stopping by for dinner, is a mere 12 and 1/2 cents, implying that they did not have access to a tub or wash bowl in your house. Last, I'm guessing that there were no private swimming pools in 1914 Ypsi, since I imagine they'd certainly charge for that.

* I take this to mean that if you didn't have a fancy permanently plumbed bathtub, you still had the traditional old tin tub to haul out on Saturday nights and start filling with stove-warmed water. But it's a bit unclear, at least to those who sit around wondering about old bathtubs.


jml said...

Wash bowl seems to be a permanently plumbed sink, rather thank a simple bowl used to pour water into.

Dusty Diary said...

jml: Thank you for the dictionary info. Hm, my first impression was that it was one of the old pitcher-and-washbowl combos.

Taking your idea into account, it looks as though I need to try and pin down the period meaning of this word. Or maybe it signified both. Thanks for the info.