Our History

History of the Industry

The various specialties within the industry evolved at different rates and in different periods, but many of the industry's most basic products have historical antecedents dating back thousands of years.

Soaps, Detergents, and Surfactants

Different accounts place soap's invention between 2500 B.C. and 300 B.C. The word "soap" may have been derived from Mt. Sapo, near Rome, a place where burnt offerings were made to the gods. People discovered that the fat and ash residue from the offerings had cleaning properties. By definition, soap is a cleansing product created through the chemical process of combining a fat or natural oil with an alkali (such as wood ashes or lye) under controlled conditions. Soap-producing factories developed in France and Italy, where olive oil was plentiful and used as the main ingredient, throughout the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries. In the nineteenth century, palm oil began to replace olive oil in formulations. By the turn of the twentieth century, many people still made soap by boiling fats and lye to produce solid cakes.

In the United States, the soap making industry marks 1837 as an important year. In that year, William Procter and James Gamble established a candle and soap making business. Their company, Procter & Gamble, went on to become one of the foremost soap and detergent makers in the country. Procter and Gamble's famous Ivory soap bar was first introduced in 1882. Lever Brothers, another major soap and detergent company, offered Lifebuoy and Sunlight soap bars in 1895.

Procter & Gamble introduced Oxydol, a flaked laundry soap, in 1924. Oxydol was followed in 1933 by Dreft, the nation's first synthetic household detergent. Instead of soap, Dreft's formula was based on alcohol sulfates. Alcohol sulfates were the first type of surfactants to make a significant impact in the formulation of cleaning products.

The term "surfactant" comes from shortening the phrase "surface active agent." A surfactant is a type of chemical capable of changing the surface properties of a liquid. As a result of their chemical nature, surfactants help water wet the surface to be cleaned more quickly and thoroughly than use of water alone. When water and mechanical action combine to remove soils from a surface, surfactants also help keep the soil suspended in the liquid so that it does not redeposit on the item being cleaned. Surfactants are basic ingredients in most products intended for use in washing clothes and dishes

The first synthetic detergents based on sodium dodecyl benzene sulfonate were developed in 1939. They were followed by detergents based on alkyl benzene sulfonate (ABS), which provided better cleaning and more suds than traditional soaps at lower prices. ABS grew in popularity and its use expanded with the introduction of front-loading drum washing machines.

Cosmetics and Toiletries.

The use of cosmetics, fragrances, and personal care products can be traced to prehistoric times. The Neanderthals, who lived approximately from 250,000 years to 35,000 years ago, painted their faces with reds, browns, and yellows derived from clay, mud, and arsenic. Bones were used to curl hair. Makeup, tattoos, and adornments conveyed necessary social information. The ancients also used fragrances. Some believed that a flower's aroma contained the presence of a deity, while others burned incense during religious rites. Different fragrances often had symbolic meanings and ceremonial oils were used for anointing.

During the reign of the Pharaohs, Egyptian aristocrats wore cones of solidified perfume that would melt under warm temperatures to mask odors. A mineral called hematite was applied as rouge, and faces were painted with white lead. Black kohl encircled eyes. Egyptians curled their hair with sticks or straightened their hair with iron bands and weights. Aloe Vera was known as an anti-irritant.

Greek women also painted their faces white and put red circles on their cheeks. Galen, an ancient Greek physician, invented cold cream. The Romans used oil-based perfumes on their bodies, in their baths and fountains, and applied them to their weapons. In the ninth century, Arabs developed alcohol-based perfumes. Crusaders of the thirteenth century brought fragrances back to Europe from Asia.

The perfumes developed during the sixteenth century were powders or gelatinous pastes. They could be applied to scented fans or carried in jewelry with fragrance compartments. The ability to create new fragrances by blending ingredients was developed during the seventeenth century in France. A person who developed new perfume scents by blending ingredients was called a "nose." Some of the compounding establishments developed in France during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were still operating at the close of the twentieth century. America's first cologne water, Caswell-Massey's Number Six, was a blend of 27 ingredients and was said to have been a favorite of George Washington.

Natural perfumes were made from a variety of ingredients containing aroma. These included: essential oils, which were found in flowers, roots, fruits, rinds, or barks depending on the type of plant; resinoids, which were gums or resins that were purified with a solvent; and absolutes, which were aromas extracted with solvents existing in viscous liquid form. Natural perfumes were expensive, primarily because of the labor involved in gathering ingredients. For example, Smithsonian magazine reported that a pound of jasmine flowers contained approximately 5,000 blooms, and one pound of the flowers yielded only 1/800th of a pound of jasmine absolute.

Chemical formulations developed during the nineteenth century began to replace expensive natural ingredients and make perfumes more widely available. Early synthetic fragrances included vanilla and violet. In the United States, Francis Despard Dodge developed citronellal and citronellal with various floral scents.

The nineteenth century also brought changes in facial makeup. Ceruse, a cosmetic that had been widely used in Europe since the time of the second century, was replaced by a powder made from zinc oxide. Ceruse, made from white lead, was discovered to be toxic. It was blamed for causing physical problems such as facial tremors, muscle paralysis, and even death.