History of Soap #2

By the 1600s, most Europeans were using soap. Soap maker guilds were formed, who carefully guarded the secrets of their trade. Not only did they cook vegetable and animal oils with the ashes of plants, they also added fragrance. Their soaps were used for washing clothes as well as their bodies.

In France, Italy, and Spain, soap manufacture was one of the largest businesses of the time.  This was in part due to the fact that they had a steady supply of olive oil, a favorite for soap making. In 1622, King James the First accepted $100,000 per year from a major soap maker to allow the soap maker a monopoly.

Soap was considered a luxury item for some time. Taxes were heavy on soap products. So, many commoners were not able to afford it. When the taxes were lowered, almost everyone started buying soap and England became a more hygienic place.

In the American Colonies, in 1608, several soap makers came over on the second ship from England to Virginia. As the new colonies were very small, soap making was something each homemaker did for herself until professional soap making took off.
Until the late 1700s, soapmaking was done exclusively with the ashes of plants (lye).

But in 1791, Nicholas Leblanc, a chemist from France, developed soda ash (sodium carbonate), a derivative of table salt. This brought the price down for soapmakers and expanded the soap making business extensively. This led to the shift from soap as a pleasurable item to a must-have for every home.
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