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  • Virginia M. Wright

Shampoo Baths: A New Sensation!

Bangor Daily Whig & Courier, March 12, 1874

In 1873, the Bathing Rooms in Bangor introduced "one of the greatest luxuries of the age" to its customers: the 50-cent champoo bath.

A champoo, or shampoo, was a soapy therapeutic massage of scalp and body, an indulgence imported to the U.S. from India by way of Europe. "The word ‘shampoo’ did not take its modern meaning, limited to hair-washing, until the late 1800s," according to History Today. The Bathing Rooms likely used tar soap for its champoos; sudsy liquid shampoos would not be invented for another 50 years.

Public bathing facilities were popular in cities in the 19th century. Gould & Stevens opened the Bathing Rooms on Central Street in 1871, fitting its rooms up "in the nicest manner" and offering hot, cold, and vapor, or steam, baths. The company ran a steam laundry at the same location, and its employees collected and delivered customers' laundry at no extra charge.

Ideas about bathing were evolving. During the first half the 19th century, people rarely bathed, and when they did, it was usually a quick cold-water plunge to clear the head or treat an illness like whooping cough. Bathing for the purpose of removing dirt was just catching on when Gould & Stevens' opened its facility, and the "champoo bath" was less about personal hygiene than invigorating the body and steeling it against illness and ailments. The company's competition included hair stylist S. Washington, also on Central Street, who developed the Excelsior Dry Shampoo as a headache cure, and the Gentlemen's Studio of Tonsorialism, on West Market Square, which boasted that its dry shampoo was so sensational that it would prevent suicides within 100 miles of Bangor.

Some people resisted the shampooing fad. "It is well enough for the people of this country to understand once and for all that the reason there are so many bald-headed young men nowadays is the universal custom that prevails of shampooing the head with stimulating washes," a New York Times correspondent protested in 1875. "The wonder is that there are any men left who have full suits of hair. The custom should be discontinued at once, and young men should be warned in season against this most pernicious practice."

Bangor Daily Whig & Courier, May 17, 1872

Bangor Daily Whig & Courier, June 30, 1873

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