History is a study of what happened and why. Often, high school and college studies of history are ruined by rote memorization of a long list of dates with a couple of words describing an event. That is not history. Often, studies of history are ruined through unreliable sources.
H. L. Mencken, the famous newspaper columnist from Baltimore, wrote a column published December 28, 1917, about the history of the bathtub, specifically that it was rare in the U.S., and how President Millard Fillmore introduced it to the White House, thereby making bathtubs and bathing popular. The column was brilliant, and it was a complete fabrication, a hoax. Within two years, however, Mencken’s column had found its way to reference books, encyclopedias, and bad history books. Here is Mencken’s original column: “A Neglected Anniversary.” [3/19/2009 – that link is dead; see Mencken’s column here.] You can read a history of the hoax and its spread at this site, Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub.
It’s a great story, about a do-nothing president, the press, and errors of history. To know the story, dates are unimportant. No one cares what years Fillmore was actually in office, no one cares exactly when Mencken’s column was published. Knowing lists of dates has never stopped a bad historian from reciting the erroneous claim that Millard Fillmore introduced the concept of bathing in a bathtub to the White House.
But now you know better.
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