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The Invention of Ivory Soap

By Edited Oct 6, 2016 0 0

Ivory Soap
Credit: http://www.silive.com/homegarden/index.ssf/2011/12/a_community_named_for_the_soap.html

The founding of Proctor and Gamble

Proctor & Gamble, the company that became lauded for their creation of Ivory Soap was first founded during October of 1837. The two founders of the company William Procter, a candle maker from England, and  James Gamble an Irish soap maker, settled in Cincinnati and married two sisters by the names of Olivia and Elizabeth Norris.  It was their father in law that suggested that they become business partners.  

Over the next 20 years the company prospered.  It was in 1858 that P&G hit their first 1 millionth sale.  At the time the company employed about 80 people.  

 

 

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The American Civil War

When the Civil War began, Procter and Gamble managed to secure contracts with the Union Army to supply troupes with their soap and candles.  This helped them to increase sales, as well as to introduce their products to the soldiers, who continued to use their products after the war.

One of the big reasons that Procter & Gamble prospered as much as they did during the civil war was thanks to a bit of foresight. The soaps that they made during the war were rosin based, which comes from pine sap.  This particular ingredient was normally supplied from the southern states, which would be difficult to acquire in the northern states once the war broke out.  In 1860 James Gamble Jr. and William Procter Jr., traveled to New Orléans and purchased as much rosin as they could.  They procured a large supply at the bargain price of $1 a barrel. When wartime shortages forced their competitors to cut production, Procter and Gamble were able to continue production.  Late into the Civil War, towards the end of the civil war they ran out of rosin and started to experiment with making soap using silica of soda instead. This has since became the key ingredient used in modern soaps and detergents today.

Interestingly enough Ivory soap doesn't leave residue behind, which is the reason behind a lot of today's avid use.

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Post-Civil War

The increase in income from the war gave P&G the financial security to run several experiments.  Procter and Gamble both had son's that were actively involved in the family business.  It was they that had made that run to New Orléans before the war began, but it was also them that decided to see if they could improve their soap.  At the time the finest soaps came from Europe and they were castile soaps.  Procter and Gamble both wanted to make a soap that could compete with those fine soaps but at the same time be affordable to buy.  

The product that they created was a white, lightly scented bar of soap that they marketed as "White Soap", and it sold very well.  One of the tricks to making this particular type of soap involved whipping the chemicals together until they were well blended, about an hour or so.  Since this was during the industrial age, the whipping was taking place through a mechanical apparatus.  

Ivory soap was first created because of an accident involving this apparatus, at least that's what was commonly believed until 2009,  I'll tell that story in a bit though.  Apparently the technical in charge of turning off the machine forgot to do it, and left it running all night long.  A great way to increase your electrical bill don't you think?  Anyway when he came in to work the next morning, the first thing he did was turn off the machine and take a peak at what was inside the vat.  There wasn't anything obviously wrong with the batch so they went ahead and finished the process making the vat into bars of white soap.  Okay  now that is what is commonly believed because until recently that was the story that the company told.

In 2009  an 1863 notebook entry by James N. Gamble was found by Ed Rider a company archivist.  The entry read, "I made floating soap today.  I think we'll make all of our stock that way." It turns out that Gamble had studied chemistry with another chemist that had already discovered how to make soap float in water.  Either way that was simply the next step for Ivory soap.

Well it turned out that all that whipping over night did have an impact.  It filled the soap with a considerable amount of air bubbles resulting in a soap that was less dense than water.  The reason it floated was because of all the air inside the bars of soap.  

In a day and age when all soaps would sink to the bottom of a tub, a bar of soap sitting merrily on top of the water would catch a lot of people's attention, and for P&G it was good attention.  They started getting requests for this new "floating soap", and so they started prolonging the whipping process on their white soap.  It didn't take long for P&G to change  its name from "white soap" to "Ivory soap".  The idea for the new name came as a result of a bible reading at church.  

Eventually, P&G decided to send samples of their product to a chemistry lab, and see exactly what their product was.  What they found was that Ivory soap led to the slogan "99 and 44/100 % it floats!"  The chemist that examined the soap found that 56/100 of the ingredients didn't fit into the "pure soap" category.  Apparently those 56 ingredients included impurities such as uncombined alkali, carbonates, and mineral matters.  Proctor decided to take the 56 and subtract it from 100.  The result of course was 44, and that was the story behind the advertisement right there.  

 

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Bibliography

  1. James G. Ferrari "A community named for the soap that floats." silive.com. 15/04/2013 <Web >
  2. "The Procter & Gamble Company History." Funding Universe. 15/04/2013 <Web >
  3. Rising Tide. New York: Harvard Business Review Press, 2004.

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