In 1910, the Andrew Jergens Co. was about to jettison Woodbury’s Facial Soap, a brand it had acquired nine years earlier, because of sagging sales. But Jergens gave it one last shot, turning to the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency, which assigned the account to Helen Lansdowne and her new Women’s Editorial Department. For the first time, women were in charge of marketing to other women, applying “feminine habits of thought.” Resulting ads emphasized the consumer’s concerns, such as “Conspicuous nose pores—how to reduce them.” The following year, Lansdowne introduced the slogan “A skin you love to touch,” and the modern business of selling soap was born.
Even though the ancient Romans probably gave us the word soap, they preferred to swathe their bodies with oil and scrape themselves clean with a strigil. One story, probably apocryphal, says soap is named after Mount Sapo, from where animal tallow and wood ash—byproducts of sacrifices—washed into the Tiber River. Women washing their clothes on the shores had better success with the resulting suds. Romans also were known to use soap as hair pomade.
Soapmakers arrived in America with the second ship to Jamestown, but for most of the nation’s early history, soap was homemade. Pioneer women made soap in conjunction with the annual butchering of farm animals, using their tallow.
ca. 1616 Castile soap, probably the first hard white soap, is first made in Spain from olive oil
1791 Leblanc Process paves the way for industrial soap production
1853 Britain abolishes a soap tax, costing the government millions of pounds
1865 William Shepphard patents the first liquid soap
1879 P&G introduces Ivory Soap
1895 Lever Brothers creates Lifebuoy, touted for its antiseptic properties
1898 B.J. Johnson Soap Co. unveils Palmolive
1916 A WWI fat shortage leads to the first synthetic detergent