How-To Guides | History of Hot Tubs - How the Modern Spa was Born

You may be surprised to know your relaxing soaks in the spa have a lengthy historical tradition. For millennia, people have used baths and natural hot springs as places of socialization, health, and worship.

Some of the earliest hot tub parties may have been held in calderas, using red-hot stones to warm the water. These early people didn't have massaging jets in their spas, but they certainly understood the curative powers of hot water.

Ancient Egypt – 2000 B.C.

Egyptians embraced cleanliness and were known to bathe up to four times a day. The wealthy even had bathing rooms inside their homes and as early as 4000 years ago! They used the therapeutic qualities of hot water in baths, adding flowers and essential oils for aromatherapy. Most Egyptians of the time used the Nile River not only for bathing, but as a dishwasher and washing machine.

ancient bath with chipped red plaster

The Greeks – 1500 B.C.

Ancient Grecians built pools around volcanic springs to capture the warm, mineral rich water for relaxation and healing. They started by creating simple, carved out areas around springs for bathing and holding clothes.

Later, they refined these structures for entertainment as well as bathing. Excavations of the Ancient Greek isle of Thera (now Santorini) revealed lavish alabaster baths carved as early as 1500 B.C. They were preserved by feet of ash from a volcanic eruption similar to the one that swallowed Pompeii.

Hippocrates, the great Greek physician, even prescribed a dip in spring water to cure sickness. The ruins of aqueducts and marble baths in Therma, Ikaria date from the 4th century BC. The radioactive springs were (and still are!) thought to have unique healing properties.

Roman Baths – 200 B.C.

With the advent of concrete and aqueducts, the Romans took the spa to the next level. Larger, more elaborate baths could be engineered, and they spread these facilities throughout their colonies. Further advancements in architecture introduced radiant heating in floors and walls, and large, complicated boilers to heat pools and rooms.

Agrippa, the right hand man of the Emperor Augustus, designed the first great thermae, or imperial public bath, in 25 B.C. These luxurious facilities included hot and cold baths, saunas, a gym, and massage.

The Roman baths in Bath, Somerset, England are still standing in part today. Ancient British legend says Celtic kings had been using the springs in Bath many years before the Romans colonized England. The Romans made a permanent structure in 60A.D., developing the springs into a bathing facility over the next 300 years.

steaming water in Roman bath in England

Public baths, and bathing in general, fell out of fashion in the Western world with the fall of Rome. Thankfully, a reemergence of Roman-style baths in the 18th and 19th centuries saw the facilities in Bath restored and rebuilt.

Even Queen Anne herself visited Bath for a spa treatment in 1702. This was a vast improvement over Queen Elizabeth I. She was quoted a hundred years before as bathing “once a month, whether she needed it or not.”

Japanese Bathing Culture – 759 A.D.

Onsen, or hot springs, have been used by the Japanese for at least 1000 years, and perhaps earlier. Most of these springs on the highly active volcanic islands of Japan are still frequented today. Dogo Onsen, on the island of Shikoku, was first mentioned historically in 759AD, and has been in continuous use since.

The Japanese have used ofuro, or personal wooden soaking tubs, for centuries. These square sided tubs are not used for cleansing, but for meditation and restorative properties. Washing beforehand meant the water could be reused by multiple members of the family. It was believed that the elder members infused their wisdom into the water for younger bathers to absorb.

Woman soaking in wooden Japanese ofuro

Native and Early Americans - 1700

High Rock Spring in Saratoga, NY was first used by Mahican tribe before colonists arrived. They called the waters “Medicine Spring of the Great Spirit,” to signify its healing powers.

British veteran of the French-Indian War, Sir William Johnson, is thought to be the first colonist to visit the area. He was carried by Mohawk tribe to the hot springs in 1771 to heal old war wounds. George Washington even paid a visit to the area in 1783.

Native American people in Hot Spring, Arkansas, used the hot springs as a sacred meeting place. They called it the “Valley of the Vapors,” from the steam that hovered over the area, illuminated by the sunrise. A settlement in the area, founded in 1804, harnessed the healing powers of the springs, which are still used today.

Resort Spas – 1880 through 1940

The value of a good bath was on the rise again by the late 1800’s. Spa resorts started popping up all over Europe and the United States. Many of these resorts were styled after Roman thermae architecture, and were used to promote vitality and health.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt owned a resort in Warm Springs, Georgia he called the “Little White House.” Partially paralyzed at an early age, he regained some of the use of his legs swimming at the springs. He returned there for hydrotherapy annually for over 20 years.

Wooden Hot Tubs – 1940 through 1960

Returning from Japan after WWII, American troops brought back the bathing culture of Onsen and the wooden ofuro tubs. This inspired the first wooden tubs in the US.

Using discarded winery equipment like barrels and vats, people began creating wood-fired hot tubs in the 1960s with varied success. These early tubs were leaky, and without filtration, harbored bacteria, algae and mold.

old rotting wood barrel style hot tub

Meanwhile, wealthy pool owners were having recessed concrete spas installed next to their pool. By the late sixties, in-ground spas gained momentum in the pool industry, using high velocity returns as the first jets. These concrete spas not only took weeks to install, but had a price tag that made them inaccessible for most.

Fiberglass and Acrylic Spas – 1960 through 1970

Fiberglass spa shells debuted in the late 60’s. They simultaneously dealt with the health issues of wooden tubs and the install issues of gunite spas. While these shells could be quickly made, they were prone to blistering and staining, and were soon replaced by acrylic.

In the mid 70’s, spa shell manufacturers created the first portable spa by installing a cabinet around the shell. Adding framework and hiding the equipment under wood skirting made it a self-contained unit.

As the decade progressed, more features were added, including more advanced filtration systems, jets, and the first spa pack in 1976. The combination of lower cost materials and ease of install made portable spas attractive to many more home-owners.

Modern Portable Spas – 1980 through 1990

The 80’s and 90’s saw more and more features added. Digital controls, synthetic skirting for easy maintenance and more complex and numerous jets were en vogue. Lightweight vinyl and rotationally-molded spas were also introduced, providing high value choices for those with limited space or budget. - 1997

In 1997, was born. As the first online spa supply, we began offering portable spas factory-direct to consumers.

In addition, a huge selection of discount supplies, filters, covers, chemicals and accessories with free shipping were offered. These How-to guides were created to educate spa-owners. It empowered them to make confident purchases, keep their spa clean and make simple repairs themselves.


With such a long history of therapeutic benefits, it’s no wonder spas are so popular today! Now you can get the Roman thermae experience in the privacy of your own home for a great value.

woman opening spa cover on gray LifeCast hot tub