Want a Timeless Cast-Iron Tub? Here’s What You Need to Know
Thanks to an invention largely attributed to David Buick, the Scottish-born inventor from Detroit, this issue changed drastically. Buick, who later become famous for the General Motors car style named after him, had acquired the Alexander Manufacturing Company, which made porcelain toilet bowls and wooden tanks.
Industrious as ever, Buick began working at Alexander Manufacturing in 1869 at the age of 15. He was an inventor at heart; by the time Buick was 35, he had invented several items such as valves, lawn sprinklers, and the porcelain cast-iron tub.
For the latter, Buick developed a process for bonding porcelain enamel to cast-iron that applied to everything from tubs to toilets and sinks. It caught on like wildfire. Despite his success and growing plumbing fortune, Buick eventually turned his interest towards automobiles.
American Standard, the historic bath and kitchen company that was founded by John B. Pierce in 1880, also claims ownership of a similar enamel process.
The difference between enamel and porcelain enamel is that enamel is magnetic—it covers steel or iron only. Porcelain enamel can cover a variety of materials. It’s not clear how American Standard’s process differed, but only that they became the dominant producer.
Other market competitors Kohler and J.L. Mott Iron Works also began marketing tubs with these new methods, which have remained unchanged since their inception. A humorous bit of advertising lore said that Kohler advertised their tubs as a horse trough or hog scalder that, with four legs, can be used a bathtub. This was apparently a solid and significant selling point at the time.
Generally, cast-iron clawfoot tubs have a rolled top edge or rim. Some clawfoot tubs are called slipper tubs, and have a raised and sloped back to enhance a lounging position.
Some clawfoot tubs morphed into a skirted apron bathtub style that replaced the four feet with a singular inverted oval base. Today, clawfoot tubs are sometimes referred to as garden tubs or soaking tubs due to their depth.
Newer reproductions of these tubs have been streamlined without heavy ornamentation, projecting a more updated aesthetic. Similarly, exterior base coatings can upgrade the look.
Metallics like gold, rose gold, and platinum on the outside give the tubs a contemporary flair. Perhaps the best manner for incorporating a cast-iron clawfoot tub into a modern home is by treating it as an objet d’art in the bathroom—especially for an en-suite bathroom, where it can be the focal point.
Though you’ll most likely pay a much higher price for a cast-iron tub, it pays for itself over time because of its durability. The finish is resistant to chips, scratches, dents, and stains.
Additionally, you may want to consider whether or not your bathroom space allows for a separate shower. Otherwise, you are relegated to showers behind a circular curtain, which doesn’t always appeal to those more accustomed to glass-wall, standing showers.
Fortunately, there are several places to find cast-iron tubs today. Salvage dealers carry them if you are looking for a fixer-upper. These are easy to restore by experts who repaint and reglaze them.
Several companies continue to make reproductions and updated versions of the tub, including Castironbath.co.uk, Randolph Morris at VintageTub.com, and Waterworks. Similarly, one can source an antique from 1stdibs.com.