Just Who Invented the Bath Towel? We Drop That Knowledge & More
Your towel’s got a story to tell: from Ottoman status statement to intergalactic sci-fi essential, this is why it’s here to stay.
Yes, we’re pretty nerdy about towels, but in our quest for knowledge we’ve discovered some fascinating trivia which makes us even more appreciative of the wonderous looped fabric that dries us off. Read on for three periods of towel history that we found particularly striking.
The 1700s: The Birth of The Towel
In the heyday of the Ottoman Turkish Empire, bathhouses were all the rage—a communal hotspot to see and be seen—and towels were the latest accessory. The first towels were called pestamels, which were long and thin pieces of cotton, linen or bamboo. As the empire grew, it attracted artisans whose skill in carpet-making contributed to the invention of towels with similar looped piles, and the first ancestor of modern bath towels appeared in Bursa in the 1700s. These goods were slow and expensive to create since a weaver could only produce a couple handmade towels per day, and, due to their demand, they soon became a luxury item sported by the Turkish elite. These looped towels were called havlu or havly, meaning “with loops”—which is what inspired our name!
The 1800s: The Royal Treatment
In the 1800s, British banker and ethnologist Henry Christy visited Constantinople. On his return to Droylsden (today’s Greater Manchester area), he brought back Turkish textiles which included havly samples. Together with his brother Richard, they studied the construction of the towel, and their employee Samuel Holt designed a machine that could mass produce it from their mill. A year later in 1851, they showed their towels at the Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace—winning the favor of Queen Victoria, who became one of their first clients. These industrial-made towels provided more abundant and affordable goods to the growing middle class across the world. Housewives in America could order towels by the yard from catalogues or buy them at general stores. Today, the Christy towel is the most coveted “souvenir” that tennis stars smuggle home after playing Wimbledon (or else jettison into the throngs of adoring fans).
The 2000s: The New Devotees
And in 2001, devotees of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy established May 25 as Towel Day in celebration of its author, Douglas Adams. In the radio series and its follow-up book, Adams advises, “A towel is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have...” which has prompted fans to carry a towel with them wherever they go on the 25th of May. We’d like to think there might be a few Havlys joining the fun this spring ☺. Towel Day has also been commemorated by astronauts such as Samantha Cristoforetti, who read an excerpt of Hitchhiker’s Guide from the International Space Station in 2015.
The bath towel truly has become part of everyone’s life—and we at Havly are on a mission to make towel technology and design better than ever, one loop at a time.