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[REV 25-NOV-2014]

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Down the Drain: 1920

Down the Drain: 1920

Washington, D.C., circa 1920. "Standard Sanitary Manufacturing Co." And the potty's over -- over behind that partition. Harris & Ewing. View full size.

On Shorpy:
Today's Top 5

More Cold Than Hot

Let's not lose sight of the fact that, despite all these plumbing niceties, hot water was in short supply for most people at that time. My experience over 20 years later involved a gas fired coil of copper tube that had to be lit whenever hot water was wanted. We kids were sequentially bathed in the same water. (Once a week, I might add.)

"The Plumber Protects the Health of the Nation"

was the the old poster from an early American Standard Promo Standard Sanitary Morphed into that
company. As a Plumbing Wholesaler for 20+ years I'm fascinated
with this picture. I sell many plumbing parts now and it's amazing
how many times a homeowner walks in and asks for parts for
faucets and toilets contemporary with these. They don't make 'em
like that anymore but they ARE still out there!

Shower pan and needle shower

I put a bid on a house that had both of those fixtures intact; it was an upper-middle class home, built in 1919. When I was un real estate you would run into needle showers fixtures up through the early 1930s. They were considered very healthy, especially for men, because they woke up your circulation.

There's an article about the evolution of shower technology here:

You can still buy a shower pan like that today. Here's one, porcelain on chrome or porcelain feet, from Van Dyke's Restorers, only $1,499.

Two-Faucet Sinks, yes.

> This was in the 60s and I wonder how old that sink was.
> I've never seen that anywhere else.

Two faucet sinks used to be fairly common, and they're still nearly universal in the UK and Ireland.

It's not a matter of backwardness - there was a good reason not to use mixing faucets. In earlier days here in the US (and often today, over there) it was common to have cold water fed directly at line pressure from the street, while hot water came at a constant pressure from a cistern on an upper floor. Mixing faucets would allow the stored hot water to be siphoned back into the street if there was a drop in supply pressure, so they were not allowed for sanitary reasons.


We own a circa 1902 house and have a sink that is a reproduction of the ones on the far wall. Now, if I only had room for a claw foot tub like the one we had in our 1892 house!

Found it!

Thanks to stanton_square's post, I found the mystery pedestal in "Modern Sanitation" It is a "Bubbling Valve Drinking Fountain" -- although the version in the picture doesn't seem to have the china mouthpiece.

Art in Plumbing

Long ago I remember visiting one of the mansions of the really wealthy along the Hudson. I have long since forgotten which it was but I still remember being amazed at the quality and design of the gleaming chrome plated brass piping and sculpted fittings that led to the bathroom fixtures. And the skill of the plumbers to assemble all perfectly without nary a scratch.

One can get more than a hint at what I mean in this picture. But, I would bet what I saw in that mansion was custom made or imported from a European specialty house.

Modern Sanitation

Amazingly, the Standard Sanitary Mfg. Co. published a monthly magazine entitled Modern Sanitation. Volumes 10 & 11 (24 issues!) are online at Google Books. It's chock full of interesting photos, advertisements and articles ("Where Bathing Makes Real Manhood and Womanhood", "Sanitation among the Hopi Indians","Bathing Facilities of the Modern Steamship" and "Japan, a Nation of Cleanliness.")

Gone Forever

Other than junkyards, I bet you couldn't find a sitz bath anywhere -- but you could get one here.

Seizures starting

After studying this collage of mirrors, reflections within reflections and dazzling chrome flashes, I am starting to go into seizures like that person who has them when he hears the voice of Mary Hart. This photo is quite intriguing but for your own mental stability, do not look at it for too long. Geez, I need a drink.

Daily columnist

Looks like a hand-washing fountain, smaller than the one I remember from elementary school but the same basic idea.

Upon further reflection

I count nine mirrors total, seven with visible reflections, and not a single glimpse of the photographer in any of them. And all this without Photoshop to fix mistakes after the fact.

Although I do wonder whose thumbprint that is.

Found the potties!

The toilets are visible in the reflection of the square mirror at the back. By this it would seem they're just out of frame to the photographer's left. I would suspect that they weren't considered nice enough to share space with the other fixtures and I know that many homes from that era had the toilet in a separate room off the main bathroom.

Retro Fit

How lovely - I'd take almost any of these setups today. I thought at first that it was odd there were no toilets showcased, but if you look in the reflection of the squareish mirror on the far wall, it looks like the toilets must be lined up on the opposite side of the showroom, all together.

So what's the thing on the left, beside the second setup back? Looks like a water fountain, but that doesn't seem right.

All over your body

I count 9 shower heads on one of those curtained contraptions. Your house better have very strong water pressure to accommodate all those outlets.

Showroom Location

It appears that this showroom was in the Southern Building which still stands at the corner of 15th and H.


Brings Back Memories

My grandmother had fixtures just like this. Her bathroom was classic. The toilet was situated behind a half wall. The floor was black and white tiling, and the walls were tiled half way up.

I would love to get my hands on one of those shower bases!

Water saver? Pfft!

Ah, the good old days, when a showerhead was really something to behold.


I could live very comfortably with these antique fixtures.

The potty can be seen

It has a wooden lid, and is reflected in the rectangular mirror furthest right.

What is that vase-shaped porcelain object, with the chrome fixture on top of it, placed between the two shower stalls (one a "needle-point")? Some kind of home drinking fountain? It's too tall for a bidet.

Looking for the loo?

Look in the rectangular mirror on the far wall. The toilets are visible beyond the square sink on the left.

Beautiful & Classic Designs

I am especially intriqued by the shower that would look awesome in my bungalow bathroom that is being renovated. Anyone know where somethig like that can be purchased?

This showroom was located in the Southern Building, 1421 H Street, NW.

No terlets

It's funny that no toilets are openly pictured. I wonder if that's just the way this composition worked out best or if the photographer took deliberate aims to "avoid the vulgar."

Eight heads are better than one

Today's multi-head showers have nothing on that one, at left. And, it looks like potties reflected in the rectangular mirror on the far wall-- they must be behind and left of the camera. Maybe it was indelicate to show a WC in photos of that era.

Love the shower

THe mult-headed shower in the foreground is fantastic!
Curious what the column next to it is, a water fountain?


What a great showroom! I found myself looking at the reflections in the mirrors more than anything else. There are even reflections of reflections.

Also, I think if you're looking for the potty, you might find some just left of the frame.

Better then than today

From American Standard's site: Before American Standard, there was the Standard Sanitary Manufacturing Company. It was founded in 1875, and merged with several other small plumbing manufacturers in 1899 to form the Standard Sanitary Manufacturing Company. By 1929, Standard had become the world's largest producer of bathroom fixtures.

As a person who is now shopping for a the right oval pedestal sink, I think I've found it, at the front left. And that I'll take that multi-head shower to the far right and the deep tub.

Two-faucet sink

This photo reminds me: My grandparents lived in an apartment with a two-faucet sink in the bathroom. As a child, I never could get the hang of washing my hands -- turned on both faucets, and quickly switched between hot-cold-hot-cold-hot-cold so as not to scald or freeze my hands. (I suppose what was expected was to fill the bowl with mixed-temperature water first?) This was in the 60s and I wonder how old that sink was. I've never seen that anywhere else.

Sanitary Building

You can still see it from from the Red Line Metro between Union Station and Brookland. The name is visible along the roof line, although this business is gone.

SHORPY HISTORICAL PHOTO ARCHIVE | History in HD is a vintage photo archive featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1960s. (Available as fine-art prints from the Shorpy Archive.) The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago.

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