Dr. Bronner and His Magic Soaps: The Man, the Mental

Josh Clark

I've written about Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps before. Arguably my favorite soap, it once made a cameo appearance in an HSW article I wrote about outlawing antibacterial soap. So I was enthused, unsurprisingly, to learn from a post on Alternet that the Dr. Bronner who founded the brand was a bit mad. He received electroconvulsive therapy at least, and, from what I understand of the fashion of the time, would have likely received a lobotomy had he not escaped and gone westward on $20 stolen from his sister's purse.

It was she who had agreed to have him committed after he'd been picked up by authorities following a lecture he gave at the University of Chicago on free speech of all things. They asked if they could commit him to the state mental hospital and she consented. So it's only fitting it was her stolen money that he used when he fled the hospital following a visit from her.

His grandsons who run the company today say they believe their grandfather was of course eccentric. Although they also think he may have exhibited schizophrenic tendencies, in most examples one can make the case that he was even ahead of his time. He was holding outdoor lectures (one could call them) in LA's parks on human unification and environmentalism in the 1940s. It wasn't until the 60s that people began to catch onto that as a large group. And only in the 90s did saving the Earth become a mainstream concern.

Yet here was Bronner, talking loudly about how we can avert disaster by loving one another in 1947. Eventually, he began handing out small bottles of the peppermint version of his soaps, which is where he got his start. Eventually he began to sell the soap and he wrote his ideas down as the Moral ABCs, about 2,000 words of which appear on the bottles of his soap.

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