History of Soap
While the origin of soap is not well documented, it appears to have been available to the early civilizations of the Fertile Crescent after 2000 B.C. During this epoch soap was used as a wound medication or hair dressing because the cleansing properties had not yet been discovered.
After an animal sacrifice, rains would wash animal fat and ash that collected under ceremonial altars, down to the banks of the Tiber River. People washing clothes in the river noticed that if they washed their clothes in certain parts of the river after a heavy rain their clothes were much cleaner. This was noted as an early use of soap.
Even the well-chronicled baths of Queen Cleopatra were absent of soap. Essential oils were used for her bathing rituals. Cleopatra used fine white sand as an abrasive agent for cleansing.
The grand baths of early ancient Rome employed cosmetics, essences, and oils but no soap. Later some Romans understood the cleansing properties of soap, but its use was not widespread.
Arabs in the Arabian Desert and later the Turks were the first societies to recognize the value of Soap. When the Turks invaded the Byzantine Empire, soap was introduced to Europe. However, isolated tribes of Vikings and Celts discovered soap independently. The Celts are even credited with introducing soap to England around 1000 A.D.
4000 B.C.E. "Purifying Oils", recorded on Hebrew Tablets, mention the use of cleaning aids, possibly ashes, limestone and oil mixed together to make the first recorded "soap".
100 C.E. Pliney the Elder writes about soapy dyes used to cleanse and dye hair.
800 C.E. Soap making becomes recognized as an art in Italy and Spain.
1300 C.E. France becomes the leader in soap making, using imported oils rather than animal tallow.
1622 C.E. King James I grants special privileges to the artisans in the soap making industry.
1630 C.E. Colonial Americans, faced with a shortage of soap from England, begin producing soap in the home. Cooking grease, animal tallow and ashes were stored and yearly were cooked into soap for the following year.
1730 C.E. Tallow Chandlers and Soap Boilers appeared in the early 18th century. They would go door to door buying grease and tallow, later to sell it back as soap, door to door.
1780 C.E. Mass distribution began in local and outlying areas to General Stores, Stage Coach stops, and hotels. The art of producing soap in the home was waning.
1837 C.E. William Proctor, a candle maker; and James Gamble, a soap maker, formed a partnership to manufacture and sell their products. The two men were responsible for producing and distributing low cost, high quality soap products. Sales reach an unprecedented $1,000,000. Even today, their insight into mass-marketing and distribution are studied in college Marketing classes.
1930 C.E. With the Great Depression, distribution was failing; money was in short supply, so homeowners began the search for soap recipes. It was during this period that daytime Radio dramas were introduced to the America home. Today, we know them as "The Soap Opera"!
1940 C.E. The Government was buying all of the commercially available grease to produce glycerin, used to produce weapons. This produced another shortage of soap, and home production was still strong.
1950 C.E. A boom economy makes consumable goods readily available again. The automobile was a fixture, TV's were everywhere and the art of soap making begins to decline.
2000’s C.E. Healthier lifestyles trend. Interest grows in all-natural and organic beauty products. Artifact Soapworks and many other awesome artisanal soap companies are born.
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