Neatorama just featured this great and strange photo of bathing machines, and I was completely intrigued. Apparently, the sheds on wheels were popular in the 19th century (even Queen Victoria had one!) and were there to--what else?-- protect a woman's chastity. At the time, beaches were segregated, so men and women used separate sections. In fact, because it was considered coarse to see a woman in her bathing suit, ladies entered the machines in their street clothes, changed into their swimwear in the dark room (there were no openings for light in the sheds), and then had the little room pulled toward the water.
To actually enjoy the ocean, women employed "dippers" to help them descend into the water at an appropriate pace, dunk them with appropriate vigor, and pull them out at the appropriate time (there were a lot of rules). Perhaps the most fascinating thing about the bathing machines, though, isn't the fact that they existed, but just how prevalent they were. While some beaches and resorts used horses to pull the things into the water, others had wooden ramps for the wheels, and steam-powered cables to push and pull the machines in and out. Once mixed gender beaches became the norm in the early 1900's, however, the machines went the way of the dinosaurs. Story via the geniuses over at Neatorama.