Do you remember watching your mother make soap the old-fashioned way–in a large cast iron pot on an open fire?
Your answer to that question reveals two things–whether or not you grew up on a farm, and what your age is.
When I was young, butchering day was very exciting to me. To my parents, it was work!
Early in the morning, the neighbours would assemble–the men outside and the women inside. As the men cut up the recently-butchered animal, the women would prepare the meat for canning.
And the day culminated with a delicious meal featuring fresh fried liver.
But the first day was only the beginning for my parents. My father was a master at making delicious, old-fashioned pork sausage and summer sausage (beef sausage).
The sausage, along with the bacon and hams, had to be smoked in a smokehouse with wood—a process that took several days.
My mother canned many jars of meat. But another big job for her was making lye soap–putting all the animal scraps and fat in a huge iron kettle and then boiling them on an open fire.
Much like how the ancient Egyptians did it thousands of years earlier.
While historians have speculated that soap may have been used as early as 4000 B.C., the first concrete evidence of the use of soap is 2500 B.C.
Tablets describing the use of soap from that time period have been recovered in the Middle East. And tablets from 500 years later record a recipe for soap.
But the earliest soap was not used for washing clothing, utensils, or hands. It first was used only for medicinal purposes.
By 1712 A.D., soap had become such big business in England that Queen Anne imposed a soap tax—a tax that was repealed 140 years later in order to encourage common people to use more soap for bathing and washing clothing and utensils.
While the first soap factory was uncovered from the ruins of Pompeii in 79 A.D., the first soap factory in the United States was established 17 centuries later, when Colgate began production in New York City in 1806.
Another big advance in soap-making was the launching of Ivory in 1879. The soap that “floats” and is “99.44 Percent Pure.”
When I first mentioned the history of Ivory to my son, he reported that the formula that made Ivory soap float was an accident.
So I looked it up. Sure enough, a worker accidentally had left the mixing machine on too long but the company decided to sell the soap anyway. Although Proctor and Gamble later discounted that “urban legend,” the floating soap became an icon!
Soap has come a long way in 6,000 years. Especially in the past century-and-a-quarter since Ivory was launched.
In recent years, there are all kinds of soap products for hair, laundry, dishwashers, floors, and bathing. There are soft soaps and detergents, and even a new-fangled Ivory soap that sells itself as the Ivory soap that “doesn’t float.”
So take your pick. And the next time you shower, be grateful that you aren’t stuck with old-fashioned lye soap!
Write Marie Snider at firstname.lastname@example.org
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