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"A Neglected Anniversary"
On December 28, 1917, an article titled “A Neglected Anniversary” by H. L. Mencken was published in the New York Evening Mail. It claimed that the bathtub had been introduced into the United States as recently as 1842, the first ones having been made of mahogany lined with lead. The article went on to describe how the introduction of the bathtub initially was greatly discussed and opposed until President Millard Fillmore had a bathtub installed in the White House in 1850, making the invention more broadly acceptable.
The article was entirely false but was still being widely quoted as fact for years, even as recently as January 2008 when a Kia TV ad referenced the story with no mention of its fictional nature.
In 1949 Mencken wrote:
The success of this idle hoax, done in time of war, when more serious writing was impossible, vastly astonished me. It was taken gravely by a great many other newspapers, and presently made its way into medical literature and into standard reference books. It had, of course, no truth in it whatsoever, and I more than once confessed publicly that it was only a jocosity ... Scarcely a month goes by that I do not find the substance of it reprinted, not as foolishness but as fact, and not only in newspapers but in official documents and other works of the highest pretensions.
- H. L. Mencken (1949). A Mencken Chrestomathy. Alfred A. Knopf.
- H. L. Mencken (1958). The Bathtub Hoax and Other Blasts and Bravos. Alfred A. Knopf.
- A transcript of the original article
- Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub in sniggle.net
- A debunking at The Straight Dope
- An article explaining the history of the myth
- The bathtub hoax as an example of early "fake news" in the Columbia Journalism Review
- History of the Bathtub at the Museum of Hoaxes