History of Soaps

1 January 2017

Egyptian documents mention that a soap-like substance was used in the preparation of wool for weaving. Roman History The word sapo, Latin for soap, first appears in Pliny the Elder’s Historia Naturalis, which discusses the manufacture of soap from tallow and ashes, but the only use he mentions for it is as a pomade for hair; he mentions rather disapprovingly that the men of the Gauls and Germans were more likely to use it than their female counterparts.

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Aretaeus of Cappadocia, writing in the first century AD, observes among “Celts, which are men called Gauls, those alkaline substances that are made into balls, called soap”. A popular belief encountered in some places claims that soap takes its name from a supposed Mount Sapo, where animal sacrifices were supposed to take place—tallow from these sacrifices would then have mixed with ashes from fires associated with these sacrifices and with water to produce soap. But there is no evidence of a Mount Sapo within the Roman world and no evidence for the apocryphal story.

The Latin word sapo simply means “soap”; it was likely borrowed from an early Germanic language and is cognate with Latin sebum, “tallow”, which appears in Pliny the Elder’s account. Roman animal sacrifices usually burned only the bones and inedible entrails of the sacrificed animals; edible meat and fat from the sacrifices were taken by the humans rather than the gods. Zosimos of Panopolis, ca. 300 AD, describes soap and soap- making. Galen describes soap-making using lye and prescribes washing to carry away impurities from the body and clothes.

According to Galen, the best soaps were German, and soaps from Gaul were second best. This is a reference to true soap in antiquity. Islamic History Solid soap was virtually unknown in northern Europe until the thirteenth century when it started being imported from Islamic Spain and North Africa. By that time the manufacture of soap in the Islamic world had become virtually industrialized, with sources in Fes, Damascus, and Aleppo. A 12th century Islamic document has the world’s first extant description of the process of soap production.

Mentioning the key ingredient, alkali, which later becomes crucial to modern chemistry, derived from al-qaly or “ashes”. Medieval history Soap-makers in Naples were members of a guild in the late sixth century, and in the 8th century, soap-making was well known in Italy and Spain. The Carolingian capitulary De Villis, dating to around 800, representing the royal will of Charlemagne, mentions soap as being one of the products the stewards of royal estates are to tally.

Soap-making is mentioned both as “women’s work” and as the produce of “good workmen” alongside other necessities such as the produce of carpenters, blacksmiths, and bakers. 15th–20th Centuries In France, by the second half of the 15th century, the semi-industrialized professional manufacture of soap was concentrated in a few centers of Provence— Toulon Hyeres, and Marseille — which supplied the rest of France. In Marseilles, by 1525, production was concentrated in at least two factories, and soap production at Marseille tended to eclipse the other Provencal centers.

English manufacture tended to concentrate in London. Finer soaps were later produced in Europe from the 16th century, using vegetable oils (such as olive oil) as opposed to animal fats. Many of these soaps are still produced, both industrially and by small-scale artisans. Castile soap is a popular example of the vegetable-only soaps derived by the oldest “white soap” of Italy. In modern times, the use of soap has become universal in industrialized nations due to a better understanding of the role of hygiene in reducing the population size of pathogenic microorganisms.

Industrially manufactured bar soaps first became available in the late eighteenth century, as advertising campaigns in Europe and the United States promoted popular awareness of the relationship between cleanliness and health. Until the Industrial Revolution, soap making was conducted on a small scale and the product was rough. Andrew Pears started making a high-quality, transparent soap in 1789 in London. His son-in-law, Thomas J. Barratt, opened a factory in Isleworth in 1862. William Gossage produced low-price good-quality soap from the 1850s.

Robert Spear Hudson began manufacturing a soap powder in 1837, initially by grinding the soap with a mortar and pestle. American manufacturer Benjamin T. Babbitt introduced marketing innovations that included sale of bar soap and distribution of product samples. William Hesketh Lever and his brother, James, bought a small soap works in Warrington in 1886 and founded what is still one of the largest soap businesses, formerly called Lever Brothers and now called Unilever. These soap businesses were among the first to employ large-scale advertising campaigns

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