History of the Bidet: Birth
The birth of the bidet has two versions, both credible. The first says that it was created in the late seventeenth century by French furniture manufacturers, as a receptacle for water for riders to soothe their behind after a painful day on horseback.
The word bidet in French means pony, in reference to the posture adopted when sitting on the artifact (in old French, bider meant to trot).
The second version states that it was designed as an intimate hygiene utensil for pre and postcoital relationships, and also as a contraceptive method. There are several theories about the inventor of the bidet. Sometimes the names of Marc Jacoud are mentioned, but also that of Christophe des Rosiers
The bidet appears documented for the first time in a writing of 1710, in France. The Marquis de Argenson was received by Madame de Prie at her chateau, seated on one of these artifacts.
It was wooden furniture with four legs. On the seat was a piece of earthenware very similar to the shape of some modern bidets. The container was filled with soapy water and used to wash the genitals before and after sexual intercourse. You had to sit astride, like someone riding a horse.
The Bidet Now with Shower
Around 1750 a bidet that incorporated a shower appeared. The water was placed in a reservoir and the force of the jet was achieved by a manually operated pump. This improvement was introduced for contraceptive purposes.
Its most obvious function is intimate hygiene, as a complement to the bathroom: in a time when having a bathtub was a privilege even among the nobility. The History of the Bidet says that it was used mainly to clean the most smelly parts of the body on days when they could not bathe. The bulk of the population was satisfied with natural water currents, since they did not have access to these artifacts at that time.
Bidet was also called “Le confident des dames” or “the confidant of the ladies”.
History of the Bidet among the European Nobility
During the 18th century the bidet became popular among European nobles. First in France and Italy and later in other southern European countries. For women who had an extramarital affair, it was a way of limiting the risk of getting pregnant from their lovers; and for married women, a way to avoid contagion due to the adventures of their husbands. Her contraceptive use was no secret. The Queen of Naples María Carolina de Habsburgo -Lorena, installed one of her in her palace in Caserta. And that they made her notice that this could give her a bad name since it was an “instrument of a whore”, a warning that she ignored.
Bidet on Palace of Versailles
In the Palace of Versailles, the bidet was successfully installed during the reign of Louis XV. Very rare furniture and woods were used, produced by the best craftsmen in the Kingdom or even commissioned in China. They were ceramic or metal containers, inserted into special chairs or stools, and they were equipped with a lid.
In the castle of Bellevue in Meudon you can admire two specimens that belonged to Louis XV. These bidets were adorned with rosewood made in 1751 for Madame de Pompadour (1721-1764), lover of King Louis XV, it was decorated with carved flowers and gilt bronze accessories.
On top of early bidet models there was room for a number of “cleaning tools” to aid in the washing process. A French feminine hygiene manual dating from 1772 gives information on what might be in the jars. Taking care of the cleanliness of the delicate parts of the body is an unavoidable necessity. These pieces should be washed every day, adding all kinds of aromatic herbs or liquids that contain alcohol to the water used for this purpose.
The Success of the Bidet
The success of the bidet in lasted less than two centuries, since its diffusion among the majority of the population was almost on a par with the shower. It turns out that the shower performed its hygienic function better.
Only in the second half of the 19th century did there begin to be facilities for running water in houses, and they would not become widespread until the 20th. By then, the use of the bidet had been so restricted that the majority of the population simply did not see the utility of it – despite which some countries, such as Italy or Portugal, made it mandatory to install it in bathrooms.
Although the French were the inventors of the bidet, they later abandoned its use. Around 1880, the bidet was still common in France and it moved from the bedroom to the bathroom, thanks to the installations of running water pipes.
- Napoleon used it to relieve his hemorrhoids after riding. He valued it so much that he even bequeathed his son his precious red bidet, which gave the utensil enormous publicity and immediately increased its popularity among the French nobility.
- In 1739 Remy Pàverie created a curious model of a double bidet, with backrests one next to the other.
- Around 1751, Duvaux’s workshop created one for the Marquise de Pompadour, one “with a rosewood-veneered back and floral moldings, gilt bronze feet and ornaments”, and one for Madame de Talmont Saint-Germain, in wild cherry with Amaranth wood inlays, stool upholstered in pink leather and stitched with gold studs.
- In 1762 Jacques Dulin used metal to make a portable bidet with unscrewable feet and decorations (flowers or mythological scenes).
History of Bidet in USA
Most bathrooms in the US are not big enough for an additional appliance. It is unknown if this prevented the spread of bidets in the US or the bathroom size developed as such because no additional space was needed.
One of the most successful bidet models was invented in the USA in the 1960s by Arnold Cohen, also known as “Mr. Bidet. “As Cohen himself has said, when he started marketing his model, 99 percent of people in the US had never heard of or seen a bidet. That made American Bidet sales in the US. Company grew slowly.
A company called Toto Ltd. saw the potential and repackaged Cohen’s concept as a “washlet” in the 1980s. That hybrid toilet-bidet appliance is now installed in more than half of Japanese homes.