When I went to Tansy’s puppy raisers’ place the last time, they sent me home with this big bottle of soap that she said was supposed to be really amazing for dogs and people alike. I got the feeling it was supposed to work miracles on whatever it touched. All I knew was it was called something like Castile Soap.
When I was about to get through the last dog shampoo I had, I figured I’d get out the miracle soap. But I wanted to make sure it was the bottle I thought it was, so Steve tried to check it with Seeing AI. He was very confused. He said “I don’t know what this is! It reads something about cleaning, and then ethics, and then…something about lavender, and then…something about god? and freedom?”
We decided to ask an Aira agent to make sense of this, and as soon as she saw the bottle and heard our description, she started giggling. “Ah, you have Dr. Bronner’s soap there. No wonder the label was so confusing. They cram all sorts of things on the label, even poems and stuff about god.” Yup, there was definitely some god stuff. It seemed like it was a good soap, and didn’t have bunches of weird chemicals in it. When I was done bathing Tansy, she didn’t feel all dried out.
I couldn’t remember the name of the soap, I was going to just mention it in a Shmans round-up saying something about how I’m using this weird god soap to bathe the Shmans, so I wanted to find its name. But when I looked up what it was called, I found this really detailed piece about its history, and what a history it was!
There is so much about the story that was so fascinating to read. This guy’s family were Jewish soap-makers living over in Germany and his grandfather created their formula of soap. the guy who created Dr. Bronners soap escaped Germany before all of Hitler’s horror took hold, and built his company in the states. What was most important to him was to try and change the world, so he would get up on a soapbox and preach. Was that the inspiration for the expression “getting up on a soapbox”? I would love to know.
I now understand why the label is the way it is.
He began his soapmaking business there in 1948, running it out of his home and giving the product away to those who would listen to his sermons in Pershing Square, which was a hotbed for activism at the time.
Michael says that after a while, Dr. Bronner realized people were coming for the free soap and not staying for the lectures. “So he just started printing his lecture on the labels.”
The text on the label of Dr. Bronner’s liquid castile soap might require a magnifying glass to read. Besides the Moral ABC, the label juxtaposes the names of Abraham, Socrates, Israel, Hillel, Mohammed, Buddha, and Jesus—a bold move today, let alone for a man of that time.
“He trapped people in their showers with his beliefs,” Michael says. Many loved the liquid soap’s minty smell, or found its multiple uses—there are 18 of them printed on the bottle, from preventing insect bites and washing vegetables to substituting for toothpaste—especially helpful during camping trips. Others resonated with the message on the label.
I doubt too many other products have such an interesting history. When I finally run out of this bottle, I’ll have to get more somehow.