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Dr. Bronner's
 

Dr. Bronner's


  Dr. Bronner's
magic in a bottle
by Sarah McNeill
June 25, 2001

Beloved by backpackers and environmentalists around the world, Dr. Bronnerís soaps are legendary. Legendary not just for the myriad of benefits it claims to offer (bodywash, shampoo, car wash, pet cleaner, laundry, wound healer, and even toothpaste and contraceptives) but also because Dr. Bronner loved to get up on his soap box, so to speak, and spread his philosophy of life.

The "magical" soapís labels include Bronnerís words of wisdom and his theories on how to make

 
 

the world a better place for everyone (what he calls the "Moral ABCís"). And indeed with the 18 uses he lists for his soaps, heís starting us off on a good foot.

But, where did the Dr. in "Dr. Bronnerís" come from? Bronner earned the title after years of soap-making in Germany. This applied activity served as the German equivalent of a doctorate in chemistry. Bronner liked to say, "Ph.D. stands for pile it higher and deeper."

The Bronner familyís soap-making roots go all the way back to the 1840s in Heilbron, Germany. In 1929, Dr. Bronner, a third generation master soapmaker, moved to the US and by the 1950s was bottling his own specially formulated soaps in California.

The 60s were a boon for Bronnerís. Hippies took to it because of its many uses and its 100% environmentally-friendly formula as well as its enigmatic personality. Since then, the family-owned company has continued to grow, and the soap is largely sold through natural foods stores.

The company now sells more than 3 million bottles and bars of soap a year, bringing in more than $7 million in revenue. They have 15 employees and true to Bronnerís philosophy, they treat them very well. Employees are paid fairly, participate in a profit-sharing plan, get full family health benefits, and generous bonuses.

Bronner died at 89, in 1997, but his sons and grandchildren continue to run the family business, respecting Bronnerís ideals and leaving the labels just as he created them. And if youíve never heard of this brand, that may be due to the non-existent marketing budget. Bronner's eschews all advertising and marketing. In fact the only public face of the Bronner's brand is a soap van, which Bronnerís son Ralph, "Dr. Soapy," uses to travel around the US singing folk music and sharing the product with adoring fans.

So, you're still asking-- just what is it that makes this soap magical? Ralph Bronner says, "It's saved lives, turned people to God, and it sells itself... What could be more magical than that?"

 
     
  

Sarah McNeill lives and works in New York City.

  
     
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