The Real Story Of Dr. Bronner and His Magic Soap

Dr. Bronner's Magic Soap

Simply put, Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap is the greatest cleansing liquid available. It’s grossly effective (getting clean is great, but seeing exactly how dirty you were just a few minutes prior by watching the brownish water trailing down the drain is disgusting), it works for everything, and its label makes for great reading material if you’re ever stuck in the bathroom for an extended period of time. But while many a Top Shelfer has mentioned the soap in one form or another (be it Baby, Peppermint, or any of the other six scents), there’s a rich history behind this cult favorite, text-heavy bathroom staple.

That’s where Marc Maron and his amazing podcast, WTF with Marc Maron, comes in. If you’re not familiar with the comedian, imagine a weird love child of Louis C.K., Sarah Silverman, Brian Williams, and Statler and Waldorf from the Muppets. Though he typically holds these intimate, off-the-cuff interviews with major figures in entertainment (Mindy Kaling, Jack White, Jon Hamm, and Ira Glass are particularly good listens), a few weeks ago he chatted with the grandson of Dr. Emanuel Bronner, and current president of the company, David Bronner.

Some of the highlights from the interview:

-Emanuel Bronner was a Jewish, third-generation master soapmaker in Southern Germany in the early 1900s who narrowly missed the Nazi takeover by moving out of the country due to generational rifts with his father and uncles.

-He held an equivalent of a masters in chemistry. Though whether or not he actually earned a doctorate wasn't discussed in this podcast.

-He pioneered the invention of liquid soap.

-His family’s original soap company in Germany was taken over and Aryanized by the Nazis. The new management even sent a letter out to the prior consumer base to alert them about the changes.

-Emanuel Bronner lead a very spiritual life, largely inspired by Judaism, the Holocaust (he lost both of his parents in concentration camps), and the nuclear armed war. He felt “urgently called upon” to help people realize their “transcendent unity,” and felt the label of his product was the best medium on which to spread the message.

-He was intense, to say the least, even spending time in Elgin Mental Health Center outside of Chicago.

-He escaped from the mental institution and moved out west to Los Angeles, speaking often in Pershing Square. People would by his soap after his sermons, which is where he got the idea to print his ideology on the packaging.

-A man by the name of Fred Walker willingly crucified himself for Dr. Bronner’s Peace Plan on a Chicago bridge in the 1940s.

-The company was sued by Olympic swimmer, Mark Spitz (around the time that Michael Phelps bested his gold medal record), for using his name on their packaging as an example of a fine Jewish role model. They ended up cutting him a check for an undisclosed amount.

-You can use the soap for pretty much anything, including brushing your teeth if you run out of toothpaste.

-Dr. Bronner wouldn’t sell to retailers that weren’t interested in hearing about his philosophies. Walmart, for example, was one that the company historically refused to allow to distribute its products, though the stores now carry the line.

Find the whole interview here. The first 20 minutes is mostly about Marc’s personal life (including his new relationship with Moon Zappa); skip ahead to get to strictly the soapy stuff. 

Photo by Elizabeth Brockway.

Let’s Talk About It! JOIN IN
  • Caroline

    I use it occasionally, because it makes my hair really curly/pretty afterward. But I definitely can't use it all the time for the same reason.

  • Savannah Scorpion

    Never use the peppermint one to remove eye makeup. EVER.

    • guest

      holy hell, one time some of that peppermint soap got in my eye and i thought i was going to go blind!

    • Janine

      Or in the shower. Let's just say it can burn certain parts by accident. :)

      • Savannah Scorpion

        oh no.

      • Beth

        My dad tells the story of when it was supplied in the shower at a boutique hotel. He said it brought a tear to his eye and a smile to his face.

  • Alaska

    I use the peppermint one in the shower and baby Dr Bronner's to clean the house. I love the idea of it being an 18-in-one/all purpose, but the formula is so drying that it just ruins my hair and face when I try to use it to wash them.

  • Pia

    Forgot to mention that he left his two children in orphanages on and off so he could go out and spread his spiritual word...

  • http://piecesofthecloud.com/ Pieces of the Cloud

    Tried lots of scents and rose or lemon are perfect for spring/summer - light yet heady, while eucalyptus is great for winter - warming and comforting.

    Works great for shaving legs - really close shave, and as a shampoo on Afro hair - slather it on and afro is soooo soft after…

    http://piecesofthecloud.com/blogs/news

  • AW

    dilute some apple cider vinegar and rinse it afterwards

  • Lena M.

    It has to do with the hardness or softness of your water. Hard water creates soap scum, hence the buildup/residue. I can't use this in my hair either as we have hard water. Soft water won't cause this.

  • johnna

    i use it to clean my Pilates machines..... never knew i had more options.

  • Janinwe

    This is the only shower gel/cleanser I use. I love the unscented, almond, lavender...the rose, not so much. The best. And no parabens or weird ingredients.

  • Beatrice

    That podcaster is awful. People listen to that guy?! Even the portion with Dr. Bronners son was botched. Most of the podcast was all commercial plugs.

  • oh_lolcats

    I use it to wash cashmere and silk by hand. it works incredibly well!

  • overanalyzer

    The label has baffled me every time I've read it. I'm all for a text-heavy label to gawk at as I stand in the shower, but the religous stuff on it (All for one! One for all! God! Rah rah rah!) makes the company sound like it's completely bonkers.

  • anon

    MARC MARON ON ITG!!!! my worlds collide! love it, thank you! :)

  • http://hairkates.blogspot.com/ Katie Colmerauer

    I've always wanted to grab this last-minute at the store, but holy crap, now it's happening.

  • Sarita

    "(getting clean is great, but seeing exactly how dirty you were just a few minutes prior by watching the brownish water trailing down the drain is disgusting)"--Glad to know that this isn't just happening to me. I mean, yay! for cleanliness, I guess, but, yeah, it's disgusting.

    [Aside: There's a typo in the sentence here--"People would by his soap after his sermons,..."]

  • lj

    Spelling: Buy not "by his soap." Awesome though.

  • Shannon

    Did no one see the documentary? It was pretty good.

  • http://rosewatersaffron.wordpress.com/ Sharareh

    Dears, it has the wrong pH then for you. It depends also on the water you use at which grade you end. Hence some people add vinegar to get the right acidity. Pure this kind of soap is more for the ones with dry and thick hair.

  • elephant21

    I do not mind the dr bronners philosophy however the soap mo matter which one seriously irritates and dries my skin and I have used other natural soaps and I did not have problems.

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