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History of Soaps

Soaps have been valued for generations for their ability to clean clothing and household products as well as for bathing. Soap making is a craft that is often neglected in history whether it is the discussion of skills of 19th century or of the colonial period. Soap is manufactured when very basic ingredients, such as oils (or fats), water and lye (sodium hydroxide) undergoes a chemical process known as saponification.

Archeological Findings
Archeological Findings The history of soap manufacturing dates back to almost 2800 B.C. The first such finding was done by the archaeologists when they discovered a clay cylinder, which was covered by a material similar to soap. The cylinders were found out from the remains of the Mesopotamian civilization and the archaeologists were astonished on their finding when they decoded the message that was on the excavated cylinders. In reality, it was the technique of soap making that described it as a boiling of fats along with ashes. But another matter that was left half way was soap like material, which was seen covering the cylinder. As the message given on cylinders did not indicate the use of this material the archeologists were left helpless.

Apart from the remains of Mesopotamian civilization, the archeologists also gained more information on soap history from the excavations of different civilizations. One such information was found from the Mesopotamian civilization from the artifacts of Pharaoh that suggests the various ways of soap making. Information on History of soap making has also been found from different books, like the medical text that was written by Papyrus. History of soap making also explains the various ways of soap manufacturing and one such way is to combine animal as well as vegetable fat along with alkaline salts. The substance, which is finally received, could be used for bathing or it can even be used to treat skin problems.

Soapmaking in Bible
The method of soap making was also introduced in holy books like Bible, in which it was conveyed that the Israelites use vegetable oils and ashes to make a substance like hair gel. Later in the second century A.D, noted physician Alexandria coined out the commercial uses of soaps by advocating soap to be used as a topical treatment for patients in order to keep them clean.

How does soap get its name
The soap got its name (according to an ancient Roman legend) from Mount Sapo, where animals were sacrificed. Rain washed a mixture of wood ashes and melted animal fat, or tallow, down into the clay soil along the river tiber. Women found this clay mixture to be highly helpful in making the cleaning easy and effective. The ancient Gauls and Germans are also credited with the discovery of a substance called soap, made of tallow and ashes, which they used to tint their hair, red.

How does soap get its nameAs the Roman civilization advanced, so did the bathing. The first of the famous Roman baths, supplied with water from their aqueducts, was designed around 312 B.C. These baths were highly luxurious that makes bathing very popular. By the second century A.D., the Greek physician, Galen advocated soap for both cleansing as well as medicinal purposes.

After the fall of Roman empire in 467 A.D., bathing habits declined and as a result of which, much of the Europe felt the impact of filth upon public health. The lack of cleanliness and unsanitary living conditions led heavily to the plagues of the Middle Ages and especially to the Black Death of 14th century. The poor cleanliness and bathing habits remain same till the 17th century in much of the Europe. However there were still some areas in the medieval world where personal cleanliness remained essential. Daily bathing was a normal custom in Japan during the Middle Ages and in Iceland, pools warmed with water from Hot Springs were highly popular among people at gathering places on Saturday evenings.

Manufacturing of soap became an established craft in Europe by the 7th century. Soap manufacturers guilds guarded and protected their trade secrets closely. The soap makers use vegetable and animal oils with ashes of plants along with fragrances to offer a variety of soaps for bathing, shampooing, shaving as well as laundering.

Advent of Commercial Soapmaking
Italy, Spain and France were emerged, as the early centers of soap manufacturing with their ready supply of raw materials, like oil from olive trees. The English started soap production during the 12th century. Around the year 1622, soap business was in great demand, which prompted King James I to grant monopoly to a soap maker for $100,000 a year. For several years during the 19th century, soap was heavily taxed as a luxury item in various countries. When the tax was lowered, it became available to ordinary people and as a result the cleanliness standards improved.

Advent of Commercial SoapmakingCommercial soapmaking started in the American colonies in 1608, which was the time when several soapmakers arrived on the second ship from England to reach Jamestown, VA. However, for several years, soapmaking remains primarily a household activity. Finally, professional soapmakers started regularly collecting waste fats from households in exchange for soaps.

An important step towards large-scale soap manufacturing occurred in 1791 when a French chemist, Nicholas Leblanc, patented a technique for producing soda ash, or sodium carbonate, from common salt. Soda ash is an alkali, which is obtained from ashes by combining it with fat to produce soap. The Leblanc technique produces inexpensive soda ash in good quantities.

Discoveries and Inventions
Discoveries and InventionsThe science of modern soapmaking commenced with the discovery of another French chemist, Michel Eugene Chevreul, who described the chemical nature and the relationship of fats, glycerin and fatty acids. The study demonstrated the basis for both fat and soap chemistry.

Another important discovery that led to the advancement of soap technology was that of a Belgian chemist - Ernest Solvay, who in mid-1800s described an ammonia process by which common table salt, or sodium chloride can also be used to make soda ash. Solvay's procedure helped in reducing the cost of obtaining this alkali, and increased both the quality as well as quantity of the soda ash available for producing soap.

Together with the development of power to operate factories, the discoveries and inventions in the field of soapmaking made the soap manufacturing one of the fastest-growing industries in developed countries. The broad availability of soap changed its condition from a luxury item to an everyday necessity and its widespread use lead to the development of milder soaps for bathing. Special soaps were developed for uses in the washing machines that were available to consumers by the turn of the century.

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