According to legend, soap was
discovered on Sappo Hill, Rome. Roman women washing clothes in the River Tiber
found that when animal fats from sacrifices mixed with the clay in the river it
produced a substance which cleaned their clothes better than just the water.
However, documents have proved that
the ancient Babylonians actually invented soap. The earliest know soap recipes
have been found on clay containers dated 2800BC and they state that wood ash,
animal fats and water were used in soap making. The soap was used to wash
clothing though and not the body.
Egyptian papyrus dated 1500BC states
that both animal and vegetable oils were used with salt to produce a type of
Early Romans were first said to have
used urine to make a type of soap at the beginning of the 1st
century AD. then went on to use goat fat and ashes from the beech tree. A soap
factory was found in the ruins of Pompeii when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79AD.
In early days of using soap, tree bark
and herbs such as soapwort were used, however, by the 8th century
the Spanish and Italians were using goat fat and beech tree ash as well.
Eventually, the Americans were the pioneers of making soap using the
traditional methods we know today, creating sodium hydroxide which was made by
using a barrel containing a hardwood ash and allowing rainwater to drip into
it. The solution was then boiled and used with fats that had been rendered
By the 17th century, in
England the soap industry developed rapidly when King James granted soap makers
Andrew Pears was one of the first
people to really produce soap for personal uses. He already manufactured
certain cosmetics and began to refine the rough soaps that were already in use.
He produced the transparent soap we think of when thinking of Pears soap and
thought of adding a perfume using flowers from the English gardens. In 1838 his
grandson, Francis Pears joined the business and then several years later his
son-in-law Thomas J Barratt joined the company and he turned Pears soap into a
worldwide product. He used the gorgeous painting called Bubbles by John Everett
Millais and to this day this painting still reminds people of Pears Soap.
Since then soap manufacturing has
continued to thrive, being done on a commercial scale all over the world. By
the 20th century people had begun to ditch harsh chemicals and use
more natural, kinder ingredients. Anita Roddick, the founder of The Body Shop
was probably one of the first entrepreneurs to build an empire that used
For a while with liquid soap being
marketed as the best ‘soap’ to use and with shower gels becoming more and more
popular the cold-pressed bar of soap did go into a slight decline. However,
with David Attenborough encouraging us all to think of our wonderful planet and
ditch plastics the bar of soap has become more and more popular and today we
see a huge rise in people wanting to learn how to do this for themselves.