From chamber pots and wooden buckets to the gleaming tubs and toilets of today, the history of Herbeau has become synonymous with the evolution of the kitchen and bath.
As one of America's founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin will always be known as the man who brought the first bathtub to America. In 1790, after completing his term as the first Ambassador to France, Franklin returned to his home in Philadelphia where he proceeded to install a slipper bath.
By the late 1700's bathing was once again en vogue among members of the French aristocracy. Like Franklin, they believed in cleanliness and a good soak.
But in the early 1800's, cleanliness was next to impossible. While the rich had servants to draw water, country folk had to obtain water from a well or nearby stream. City dwellers filled their buckets at public hydrants.
The Industrial Revolution changed everything. Cities launched massive public health initiatives. A number of these initiatives took place in Lille, a prosperous city in northern France. A pipe fitter by trade, Louis Herbeau helped install the city's first gaslights. Later, he became involved in a program to modernize the water pipes underneath the streets.
An early pioneer of the industrial reform movement, Herbeau traveled to England, where sinks, tubs and toilets were being manufactured out of fireclay, porcelain and ceramic. The fixtures were called "sanitary ware" because of their hygienic appearance.
In 1857, Louis Herbeau opened one of the first showrooms in France devoted exclusively to L'Art du Sanitaire (the art of sanitary ware). The Herbeau showroom in Lille rapidly gained a following among socialites and aristocrats. His son Desire, who proved to be a prolific designer, joined Herbeau. The early bath suites Desire designed reveal the Art Nouveau influence of the times.
Shortly after the end of World War I, Desire Herbeau, along with his son Maurice, established a Herbeau showroom in Paris. Paris was the center of everything artistic. At the 1925 L'Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratif et Industriels Modernes, Desire and Maurice Herbeau presented the emerging Art Deco style.
In the 1950's, Jean Herbeau decided to expand the company's kitchen line. Trained as an architect, Jean initially designed a kitchen faucet. Instead of using a standard lever or cross handle, Jean fashioned the handle to resemble the gearshift of a car, specifically the prized 1904 DeDion-Bouton automobile driven by his father, Desire Herbeau.
In 1991, a long-standing relationship between Holger Baron and the Herbeau family led to the formation of Herbeau Creations as the exclusive Herbeau distributor for the U.S. and Canada. By 2004, Herbeau Creations moved into a brand-new 20,000 square foot building in Naples, FL. The building serves as the company's North American head-quarters and distribution hub.
Much has changed since the days Louis Herbeau took a piece of copper tubing and imagined it as a faucet. Today Herbeau makes faucets, sinks, tubs and toilets that feature the latest in plumbing innovations. And, along with an indefinable je ne sais quoi, Herbeau is assured its place in the continuing history of kitchens and baths.