H.L. Mencken And The Bathtub Hoax Of 1917

In 1917 a journalist by the name of  H.L. Mencken had grown weary of all the reports of war and death that ensued from World War I.

He thought it was about time someone published something a little more light-hearted to serve as a temporary distraction.

His chosen subject?

The history of the bathtub in the United States.


Now I’m not too sure I could right a light-hearted article about a bathtub but Mencken obviously did as he came up with, “A Neglected Anniversary” which appeared in the New York Evening Mail on December the 28th, 1917.

His article was pure fiction but none of the readers ever realised it was a joke.

Mencken’s article claimed that the common bathtub had only been in use in the U.S. since around 1842 but weren’t actually used much until popularised by President Millard Fillmore when he had one installed in the White House in 1850.

Several years later Mencken wrote a second article which exposed his first one as a hoax.

Journalism being what it is meant some people took no notice and have quoted “A Neglected Anniversary” as fact anyway.

The most recent example was probably in 2004 when the Washington Post made reference to Millard Fillmore being the first president to bathe in the White House as part of a trivia quiz.

A couple of days later they retracted the comment!

About Lee Munson

Lee's non-technical background allows him to write about internet security in a clear way that is understandable to both IT professionals and people just like you who need simple answers to your security questions.

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