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Hot Tub History: From Background to the Modern Spa

What comes to mind when you think about hot tubs? For many people, the modern garden spa conjures up images of relaxation and luxury. But how did this come to be? 

How long have hot tubs been around and how do modern ones differ from the first spas? 

Is there much hot tub history? Read on to learn more about the origins of the modern-day spa.

When Was The Hot Tub Invented?

Hot tubs in some form have been used for thousands of years, but the invention of bubble jets bridges the gap between these ancient spas and contemporary hot tubs. 

Jacuzzi Family History

The Jacuzzi brothers emigrated to the USA at the beginning of the 20th century and made their living as inventors. In 1956 they created a hydrotherapy pump known as the J-300, which transformed any bath into a therapeutic spa. 

Twelve years later, in 1968, one of the brothers, Roy, invented the first Jacuzzi whirlpool bath featuring integrated air jets. This paved the way for today’s modern tubs and changed the bathing culture from being a health aid to a more social experience to be enjoyed with friends and family. 

The History of Hot Tubs

image of a greek cartoon in a hot tub

The Egyptians used them.

Interestingly enough, a fair bit of archaeological evidence points to the use of hot therapeutic baths in ancient Egypt as long as 4000 years ago! 

The oldest evidence comes from a solid granite bath that experts believe to have been crafted for King Phraortes of ancient Persia! If this is true, it turns out that the therapeutic qualities of hot tubbing have been enjoyed by humans as far back as 600BC! 

They were around in Roman times

A more famous use of hot water therapy comes from the Roman Empire, where most of us will have heard of their fondness for group bathing sessions in natural hot springs.

In fact, the Romans are so entwined with who invented the hot tub that the term spa is widely believed to have originated as an acronym for the Roman phrase “Sanus Per Aquam”, or “health through water” in modern English! 

Ancient Greeks loved the benefits of warm water.

The ancient Greeks were also quick to get in on the action of hot baths and hot water therapy, with the great Philosophers of the time frequently recording their thoughts on the healing properties of hot water bathing.

This can be seen across many archaeological sites uncovered in Greece, with vast thermal complexes found built atop hot springs all over the country, featuring seating carved from the surrounding rock to create bathing rooms and public baths for swathes of people to enjoy.

Japanese Ofuro tubs – The first custom-built spa

a wooden hot tub surrounded by snow

It was in Japan that the modern spa would be born. The country is littered with volcanic springs, so hot water therapy has long been a staple of their rich history.

The modern hot tub design, a contained bath rather than a communal hot spring, can be traced back to Japan’s wooden Ofuro tubs, first developed in the 15th century.  

These deep baths were to be installed in the home, using wood-fired heaters to produce hot water. This design is so timeless that similar wooden hot tubs to these are still produced today! 

1985 – The First Soft Portable Spa Is Invented

In 1985, a product would be invented that would change hot tub design forever, the world’s first truly portable spa. American engineer Tom Thornberry had noticed the growing popularity of cast acrylic and fibreglass shell hot tubs and saw an opportunity to capture some of that market.

Together with two friends, he designed and manufactured an inflatable hot tub that required no foundation to be installed upon and ran off a 120V electrical supply instead of 220V so it could be used anywhere with an electrical outlet! 

Modern Hot Tubs 

hot tub on a balcony with purple lights on the water

The success of Thornberry’s product encouraged hot tub development to where we see it today. With more people owning hot tubs, manufacturers were able to develop filtration systems, improved materials like reinforced PVC, malleable and versatile plastic components and even fancy LED lighting systems; below are just some of the features of modern-day garden spas. 

  • Inflatable – One of the main features of hot tub development, and the main reason why hot tub sales have shot through the roof in recent years, is their portability. You can have outdoor and indoor hot tubs and portable spas no longer have to be a permanent structure like the first modern home spas; they literally can be set up in minutes almost anywhere. 
  • Frost Protection – Another issue the spa industry has considered is that many hot tubbers used to empty or store away their outdoor Jacuzzis during the winter months to prevent the water from freezing. 
    Today though, due to the advances in technology, many hot tubs include built-in anti-freezing systems meaning people can enjoy the therapeutic benefits all year round. 
  • Heating System – Energy-efficient modern heaters have also allowed more of us to enjoy hot tubbing, with today’s portable spas using thermal insulation and time-activated heaters to heat the water faster and waste less expensive energy doing so. 
    With insulated ceramic plates and PTC heaters, we can now heat a hot tub to 40 degrees Celsius in a matter of hours for as little as £10-£15.
  • Easy to set up – Before 1985, hot tubs would need to be built and installed upon a foundation, making it difficult and time-consuming to set up and move them. With today’s inflatable hot tubs, all it takes is attaching a hose and a pump to inflate and deflate the things, with most being ready to be filled in just 10-15 minutes! 
  • Accessories – With modern materials like PVC and plastics, our hot tubs can be endlessly upgraded with new seating, pillows, pool toys and gadgets. Lights can be added to spruce up older models, and some brands even allow for new pumps to be fitted, enabling Wi-Fi controls or improving the energy efficiency of an older unit! 


Hot tub vs Jacuzzi?

Are hot tubs out of style?

Where did hot tubs originate from?

Last Word

hot tub on a patio overlooking the sea

Well, that’s the story of the humble hot tub. Who’d have thought that we’d share so much in common with the kings of Ancient Egypt and the soldiers of the Roman Empire!

The long history of hot tubs only proves how beneficial these products are as a therapeutic health aid and a form of social relaxation. With today’s modern hot tubs being so efficient, portable, easy to use and affordable, it would be a shame to miss out on the joys of hot tubbing!

John Devlin

Hello, Welcome to my website. I’m John, and I created the InflatableHotTubGuide while researching these spas nearly a decade ago. Since its creation, the site has become the leading UK resource for many models. As a passionate hot tub user, I love to test and explore all the latest machines this industry keeps creating. I hope you find our content helpful.