Dr. Bronner was the third generation of a Jewish master soap maker family in Germany. His family is credited with significant liquid soap innovations in the country. Still, due to an increasingly strained relationship with his father and uncles, Bronner emigrated to the United States in 1929 for a fresh start and to consult for American soap companies—just a few years before the Nazis took power. But did you know what was the last word Bronner got from his father?
Dr. Bronner fled Germany in 1929, fearing the rise of the Nazis, but his parents refused to accompany him. His final communication with them came from a censored postcard that read, “You were right. —Your loving father.”
Dr. Bronner, The Mad Soap Scientist
Dr. Bronner was a German immigrant committed to an asylum by his sister before fleeing to California in 1947. Bronner, a devotee of naked sunbathing, was concerned about the fluoridation of the water supply and (falsely) claimed to be Einstein’s nephew.
If committing to an asylum seems extreme, consider this: Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap bottles are covered in what must appear to be a lunatic’s ravings. Each bottle of soap contains a message, sometimes 6,000 words long in tiny print, about what Bronner called the “moral ABC of astronomy’s Eternal ALL-ONE-GOD-FAITH [that] unites the Human Race!” “Bronner talked about “uniting spaceship Earth” and thought Halley’s Comet was the Messiah.
The full “Moral ABC” is a 72-page pamphlet available on Dr. Bronner’s website, and it ranges from general rants about the universe to specific advice, such as how to allegedly use a mixture of lemon juice and Vaseline as birth control.
The good doctor, whose credentials are unknown, died in 1997, but his “Magic Soap” business lives on. Bronner claimed that as a “soap maker master chemist,” he had the German equivalent of a Ph.D. in chemistry. In 1988, Bronner’s son Jim saved Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps from bankruptcy, converting the organization from a nonprofit to a for-profit. The company is now run by Bronner’s grandson, David, who agreed to lead it “on activist terms” after spending time immersed in Amsterdam’s drug culture. David Bronner has been arrested twice for his involvement in hemp activism. (Source: Mental Floss)
The Secret Ingredient to Dr. Bronner’s Success
David decided he no longer wanted to hide the ingredient from their customers after becoming the man on the soapbox. Concerned that soap fans would see the extra ingredient on the label and assume he had added it himself or that the color change from removing it would make it appear as if he was diluting the recipe, David decided to replace the caramel coloring with hemp oil. Customers noticed that the new not-so-secret ingredient improved the feel of the lather as well as the color of the soap. (Source: Mental Floss)
Business of Activism
When beauty companies Kiss My Face and Avalon Organics advertised their products as “organic,” Bronner’s sued them for using the term incorrectly. In 2014, the company changed the labels on their soap in support of a Washington state law requiring labeling goods containing genetically modified organisms. David has been arrested twice: once for planting hemp seeds on the DEA headquarters lawn and again for milling hemp oil in front of the White House. (Source: Mental Floss)