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It was the early 90s and love was in the air. I found myself near Vantage on the sandy banks of the Columbia River. I was camping with a circle of hippies, making our way to a show at the Gorge. It was a balmy evening, and several of us decided to bathe in the river. One of the girls produced a curious-looking bottle of soap. “It’s okay,” she said. “It’s natural.”Emmanuel H. Bronner (born Emmanuel Heilbronner) was born in 1908 in Laupheim, Germany to a prominent Jewish soapmaking family.  Following custom, when he was old enough, Emmanuel took an apprenticeship with another soapmaking family in Southern Germany. Before long Emmanuel received his master certificate from the guild, and earned a university degree in chemistry.

"The secret is in the carbonite."

For many of us, our late teens and early twenties are a time of assertion and self discovery. Emmanuel’s ideas to modernize soapmaking along with his Zionist ideals lead to strife within his family, so he decided to pack it up and move to America in 1929. There he found work with US soap and chemical manufacturers, and met his first wife, Paula. Seeing the writing on the wall, Emmanuel dropped “heil” from his last name, and began asking his parents to join him in America. They never did. Eventually, Emmanuel received a postcard from his father that read simply, “You were right – Your loving father.” He never heard from his parents again.

After his wife died in 1944, Emmanuel adopts the honorific “Dr.”, though he never completed the advanced degree.  Leaving his children to be raised in foster homes, Dr. Bronner decided to try to convince President Roosevelt, Eisenhower, and the American people in general of the dangers of Communism and Fascism, as well as his plan for world peace.  In 1945, Dr. Bronner was arrested for speaking without a permit at the University of Chicago and was committed to the Elgin State Insane Asylum where he underwent shock treatments.  He escaped after a few months, and traveled to Los Angeles.

Even a great crib sheet is no substitute for studying.

His time in Los Angeles was spent embroiled in the political activism of Pershing Square.  It was there that he found a platform for espousing his “All-One” religio-scientific ideas, and sold soap on the side.  After realizing that most of the people were coming for the soap, but not listening to him speak, he got the idea of filling all of the extra space on his labels with elements of the “All-One” philosophy.

In the years that followed, Dr. Bronner continued honing his soap and and his philosophy.  Time was on his side, as they say, and along came the counter-culture revolution of the late 60s and 70s.  And with this revolution came a new breed of young people who sort of dug what Dr. Bronner was laying down.  But more than that, they loved his soap for its natural ingredients and homespun vibe.  The soap business began to flourish.

Though it was originally offered only in Peppermint, Dr. Bronner’s soaps now come in a variety of scents, such as almond, lavender, eucalyptus, citrus, and rose. In addition to their soaps, they also now offer an extensive line of balms, lotions, shaving gels, and hand sanitizers.

Although Dr. Bronner passed away in 1997, the Bronner family continues making his soap more or less the same way he was making it.  All of his soaps and balms are made with organic and fair trade ingredients.  All the bottles are 100% post consumer recycled plastic.  There are no detergents, foaming agents, petrochemicals, or synthetics, and they are not animal tested.  My wife and I like to take it along when we are camping to wash the dishes, or to wash oneself if so inclined.

Why is it called “18 in 1 uses”? Well, according to the packaging:

  1. Always dilute for Shave-Shampoo-Massage-Dental Soap-Bath!
  2. Peppermint is nature’s own unsurpassed fragrant Deodorant!
  3. A drop is best Mint Toothpaste; brushes Dentures Clean!
  4. A dash in water is the ideal Breath Freshener & Mouth Wash!
  5. Peppermint Oil Soap for Dispensers, Uniforms, Baby, Beach!
  6. Dilute for ideal After Shave, Body Rub, Foot Bath, Douche.
  7. Hot Towel-Massage the entire body, always towards your heart.
  8. Pets, silk, wool & body tingles head to toe – keeps cool!
  9. 3 dashes in water rinse most Sprays Off fruit & vegetables!
  10. 1/4 oz in qt H2O is Pest Spray! Dash, no rash Diaper-Soap!

I know what you are thinking, and you’re right.  That’s only ten.  I don’t know what to tell you.  Let me see if I can come up with eight more.

  1. It makes a decent shaving cream.
  2. According to Levi’s official website, Dr. Bronner’s keeps your Levi’s shrink-to-fit jeans fitting like a glove.
  3. It’s concentrated, so it’s great to take camping or on a boat where every square inch of storage counts.
  4. The peppermint variety apparently makes a decent organic pesticide.
  5. It’s good for cleaning out the car and leaves a pleasant scent.
  6. Empty bottles can be used for storing paint in single serving portions.
  7. It always gives to something to read in the bathroom.
  8. Can be used to convince unwanted guests that you have joined some sort of intergalactic soap cult.

Yikes.  That was harder than I thought.

Dr. Bronner’s Organic Castile Soap.
And finally, in case you don’t have a bottle handy, I present the Dr. Bronner Magic quote generator.