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Sauna History

A Brief History of the Sauna

The sauna is one of the oldest forms of bathing the world has ever known. While archaeologists cannot confirm or deny the origins of the sweat bath — most certainly before the Romans — we know who perfected this fine luxury, the Norse peoples of Finland, Norway and Sweden.

The Nordic people's unique sweat bath began to gain notoriety during the Reformation, when European bath houses were almost no longer existent. In the 1500s Klaus Magnus wrote: "Nowhere on earth is the use of the bath so necessary, as it is in the Northern lands."

But the old Finnish Saunas were not as luxurious as you might guess. Most of Finland's population worked in agriculture and made little money. The upper classes - not the working classes, and certainly not the peasants - mainly used by Finnish saunas. However, the Finnish sauna was still a large part of Finnish culture: when there was a sauna available for the common folk, they would gather because it provided warmth, shelter, and water, and more importantly community and the intimacy of a group sweat.

The Finnish sauna gained spiritual significance in later years. It was revered like a church and many rites of passage took place in saunas, like giving birth.

20th Century Saunas

After a decline in the popularity of the sauna for many years, the Finnish saunas resurgence came during World War II. As leisure time became few and far between, many soldiers would use the sauna to relax, meditate, and boost their morale. During this time, Finnish doctors and architects began doing extensive research on saunas to see how they could be improved to maximize their function. The more compact and fuel-efficient sauna was created and soon afterwards, groups of worldly Finns began building, marketing and selling their personal saunas to people all over the world.

Originally, Finnish saunas were housed in a separate building from a person's home. Generally, these sauna buildings consisted of one room that was not only used for warming up but also for washing. However, as indoor plumbing and running water became a more common place feature of the home, the washing room moved into the main house and became separate from the sauna. But the Finns were not willing to give up their saunas. Instead, they incorporated the hot room into their bathroom.

Today, the Finnish sauna is the most renowned sweat bath in the world. Over 300 companies manufacture sauna stoves today, although only a handful produce 10,000 or more stoves yearly.


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