The Story of Soap (Dec, 1935)

<< Previous
1 of 3
<< Previous
1 of 3

The Story of Soap


By Ralph Baker

THE white meat of the cocoanut from tropical islands of the South Seas, oil from the cotton fields of the South, thyme and other herbs from shady gardens, soda and potash from desert mines, flowers from the flower-fields of Europe—these are the principal ingredients from which modem soap is made.

The origin of soap is lost in antiquity. Buried in the flaming lava of Vesuvius a soap maker of Pompeii met his death. Centuries later excavators found his shop with bars of soap in their original moulds. Even that is not the beginning. In 600 B. C. the Phoenicians made soap as a commercial product, and it was doubtless used long before that.

What is soap? Stated simply, ordinary soap is the result of chemical combinations of fats with soda or potash. Much more than this, though, enters into the modern manufacture of soap.

Cocoanut is one of the chief ingredients used. The copra, or dried cocoanut meat, upon arriving from the South Sea island, goes to crushers where it is ground, reducing it to a bran-like substance. Then it is ready for the oil extractors, where the oil, nearly two-thirds of the entire bulk, is pressed out.

From storage tanks the oil is pumped to the refinery, where it becomes a pure, sweet salad-type oil, some of which is sold to manufacturers of vegetable foods.

The oil is next pumped to soap kettles where it is saponified by adding a solution of sodium hydroxide, and boiled with live steam entering the kettles through pipes. Imagine twenty or thirty such kettles three stories high each holding five carloads of soap, and you can understand why one large factory alone uses as many as 250,000 cocoanuts a day.

After the soap has boiled all day, common salt is added with copious quantities of water. During the night the salt water sinks to the bottom, carrying glycerin — a by-product with it.

The soap remains in the kettles for several days of further boiling. An expert soap maker tells when the soap is finished by its appearance in the kettle and by tasting it.

The hot finished soap is pumped from the kettle to the crutcher, and then fillers such as silicate of soda are added to help hold the bar together. From the crutchers it flows to frames, holding from 1,000 to 1,500 pounds of soap, to cool and solidify, after which it is cut into bars.

Fine toilet soap is made of cocoanut, olive, and cottonseed oils. When cooked, it also passes through a crutcher, over cooling rollers, and through a dryer. It then passes into a mixer called an amalgamator, where the perfume is added.

In the mill it becomes quite plastic, the perfume is thoroughly incorporated, and the soap reduced to a fine grain. It is then pressed into bars, stamped, and declared ready for the war against grime.

  1. Stannous says: September 11, 20069:18 am

    Actually, archeologists are pretty sure soap was a Celtic invention.

    The 3rd page has an ad for a $27.50 Iver Johnson bicycle. A 1920s, less fancy one is available for $750.00…

    Checking Iver Johnson on ebay turns up quite a few gun parts, several very expensive bikes.

  2. Ephedra. says: November 16, 200711:44 pm


    Colorado ephedra lawyer….

  3. […] A commonly accepted story for how soap was discovered comes from a Roman legend according to which rain would wash down through the ashes and animal fat of the burnt animal sacrifice area of Mount Sapo into the clay banks of the Tiber River where the local women washed their clothing, and they noticed that this clay mixture made their wash cleaner. (more here) […]

Submit comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.