15 Things You Didn’t Know About Dr. Bronner And His Magic Soap

You've undoubtedly used Dr. Bronner's, the top-selling organic liquid and bar soap brand in North America. But how much do you know about the man behind the company, and the soap he created?

1. EMANUEL BRONNER WAS BORN INTO SOAP.

Bronner was part of the third generation in a family of Jewish master soap makers in Germany. His family is credited with important liquid soap innovations in the country, but because of Bronner’s increasingly sour relationship with his father and uncles, he emigrated to the United States in 1929 for a clean start and to consult for American soap companies—just a few years before the Nazis came to power.

2. HE STARTED HIS LIFE IN THE U.S. LECTURING ABOUT WORLD PEACE.

Bronner spent years spreading word of the life philosophy he called Bronner’s Peace Plan, which would eventually become “the Moral ABC.” The basic idea of his world view? If people stopped focusing on how we are different and instead thought about how we are the same, we would all be better off on this “Spaceship Earth.”

3. HIS MORAL PHILOSOPHY WAS BORN OUT OF TRAGEDY.

In the 1940s, Bronner received word that his parents and extended family who had stayed in Germany had been killed in Nazi death camps. Soon after, his wife fell ill and passed away, leaving Bronner with his two sons and one daughter, all three of whom he put into foster care in order to focus more on refining his speeches. His eldest son, Ralph—who has said he spent time in 15 different orphanages—would eventually join his father on the lecture circuit and continue spreading the Moral ABC after his father’s death in 1997.

4. BRONNER’S SISTER ONCE COMMITTED HIM TO A MENTAL INSTITUTION.

Concerned by the fervor Bronner applied to his lectures and his decision to abandon his children, his sister had him committed to Elgan Mental Health Center outside Chicago, where he received shock treatments, in the mid-1940s. Bronner escaped and fled to California, started calling himself a rabbi, and began mixing up drums of liquid soap using his family’s old recipe.

5. HIS NOW-FAMOUS PEPPERMINT SOAP STARTED AS A GIVEAWAY TO THOSE WHO CAME TO HIS LECTURES.

When he realized that people were coming to his events, taking his soap, and not sticking around for his talks, he started printing his talks on the bottles. Bronner spent the rest of his life refining the 30,000-word creed by which he led his life and which his company still prints on its soap today

6. THE COMPANY NOW BASES ITS BUSINESS PRACTICES OFF BRONNER’S LIFE PHILOSOPHY.

Six principles guide the employees of Dr. Bronner’s: Work hard! Grow!; Do right by customers; Treat employees like family; Be fair to suppliers; Treat the earth like home; Give and give!

7. THE COMPANY FIRST LISTED ITSELF AS A NONPROFIT RELIGIOUS ORGANIZATION.

The IRS disagreed and served Bronner with a notice that he owed them $1.3 million in back taxes, enough to send the company into bankruptcy. It was Bronner’s son Jim who stepped in to save the family soap business.

8. TODAY, BRONNER’S GRANDSON RUNS HIS SOAP EMPIRE.

David, son of Jim (the one who saved the company), takes after his grandfather more than his conservative father (who rejected his dad’s life philosophy and became an industrial chemist). After graduating from Harvard, David took a life-changing trip to Amsterdam and returned to the U.S. with the intention of getting back to the Netherlands to start his own marijuana-growing business as soon as possible. But after spending time reading up on Eastern religions, David said he finally understood what his grandfather had been preaching about all those years. When David’s father passed away in 1998, David took control of the family soap business.

9. THE COMPANY SAYS THERE ARE 18 DIFFERENT WAYS TO USE EVERY BOTTLE OF THEIR CASTILE SOAP.

Despite the company's claims, though, collective internet knowledge and experimentation have found there are around 14 acceptable uses for the product. These include most general cleaning tasks such as face wash, shampoo, shaving cream, and diluting the product for use in cleaning dishes, doing laundry, and washing floors. Somewhat surprisingly, the soap has a reputation for being an effective ant spray. Not surprising is that the internet community has mostly rejected the company’s idea of using the soap to brush your teeth; those who have tried it have found the practice akin to washing their mouth out with soap. Go figure.

10. FOR YEARS, THE SOAPS CONTAINED A SECRET INGREDIENT: CARAMEL COLORING.

After becoming the man on the soapbox, David decided he no longer wanted to hide the ingredient from their customers. Concerned that soap loyalists would see the additional ingredient on the label and assume he had added it himself—or that the change in color from removing it would make it look like he was diluting the recipe—David decided to replace the caramel coloring with hemp oil. The color of the soap changed, but customers also found the new not-secret ingredient improved the feel of the lather.

11. DAVID BELIEVED IN HEMP OIL SO MUCH, HE SUED THE DEA OVER IT.

Because hemp has long been seen by the government as equivalent to marijuana, in 2001, the DEA tightened their enforcement of THC bans and started seizing shipments of hemp seed and hemp oil at the border. David led the industrial hemp industry in a lawsuit against the government, and just to make sure they didn’t miss his point, corporate representatives would camp outside the DEA’s headquarters and hand out samples of hemp granola and poppy-seed bagels (which made the point that poppy seeds contain trace amounts of opiates but are perfectly legal). The agency eventually reversed the policy.

12. SINCE THEN, THE COMPANY HAS ALSO FOUND ITSELF IN THE BUSINESS OF ACTIVISM.

When beauty product companies Kiss My Face and Avalon Organics advertised their products as “organic,” Bronner’s sued them over their false use of the word. The company changed the labels on their soap in 2014 in support of a measure in Washington state that would require the labeling of goods containing genetically modified organisms. David himself has been arrested twice: once for planting hemp seeds on the lawn of the DEA headquarters and once for milling hemp oil in front of the White House.

13. WHEN DR. BRONNER’S COULDN’T FIND AN ORGANIC AND FAIR-TRADE SOURCE FOR THEIR OILS, THE COMPANY STARTED ITS OWN FARM.

In a case of talking the talk and walking the walk, Dr. Bronner’s now operates its own organic and fair-trade palm, coconut, and olive oil farms in Ghana, Sri Lanka, and Israel, where, in keeping with their vision of world peace, they source their olive oil from both Israeli and Palestinian sources. Coconut oil is now almost as big of a product for Bronner’s as their bar soap.

14. THE PAY FOR THE HIGHEST EXECUTIVE AT THE COMPANY IS CAPPED AT FIVE TIMES THE LOWEST-PAID WORKER.

This means as CEO, David makes about $200,000 a year. Additionally, Dr. Bronner’s offers every employee a fully paid health plan, company contributions to an employee’s retirement fund at 15 percent of the employee’s salary, and a 25 percent annual bonus for all full-time employees. 

15. THE COMPANY HAS BECOME MORE POPULAR, BUT YOU STILL CAN'T GET ITS SOAP JUST ANYWHERE.

The original Dr. Bronner refused to sell his products to any retailer who wasn’t interested in hearing his thoughts on life. David twice rejected lucrative offers from Walmart because he didn’t want to support the company's politics and low pay for workers. However, the retail giant now carries the brand.

11 Fun Facts About Dolly Parton

Brendon Thorne, Getty Images
Brendon Thorne, Getty Images

Over the past 50-some years, Dolly Parton has gone from a chipper country starlet to a worldwide icon of music and movies whose fans consistently pack a theme park designed (and named) in her honor. Dolly Parton is loved, lauded, and larger than life. But even her most devoted admirers might not know all there is to this Backwoods Barbie.

1. You won't find Dolly Parton on a Dollywood roller coaster.

Her theme park Dollywood offers a wide variety of attractions for all ages. Though she's owned it for more than 30 years, Parton has declined to partake in any of its rides. "My daddy used to say, 'I could never be a sailor. I could never be a miner. I could never be a pilot,' I am the same way," she once explained. "I have motion sickness. I could never ride some of these rides. I used to get sick on the school bus."

2. Dolly Parton once entered a Dolly Parton look-alike contest—and lost.


Getty Images

Apparently Parton doesn't do drag well. “At a Halloween contest years ago on Santa Monica Boulevard, where all the guys were dressed up like me, I just over-exaggerated my look and went in and just walked up on stage," she told ABC. "I didn’t win. I didn’t even come in close, I don’t think.”

3. Dolly Parton spent a fortune to recreate her childhood home.

Parton and her 11 siblings were raised in a small house in the mountains of Tennessee that lacked electricity and indoor plumbing. When Parton bought the place, she hired her brother Bobby to restore it to the way it looked when they were kids. "But we wanted it to be functional," she recounted on The Nate Berkus Show, "So I spent a couple million dollars making it look like I spent $50 on it! Even like in the bathroom, I made the bathroom so it looked like an outdoor toilet.” You do you, Dolly.

4. Dolly Parton won't apologize for Rhinestone.


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Parton is well-known for her hit movies Steel Magnolias and 9 to 5, less so for the 1984 flop Rhinestone. The comedy musical about a country singer and a New York cabbie was critically reviled and fled from theaters in just four weeks. But while her co-star Sylvester Stallone has publicly regretted the vehicle, Parton declared in her autobiography My Life and Other Unfinished Business that she counts Rhinestone's soundtrack as some of her best work, especially "What a Heartache."

5. Dolly Parton is Miley Cyrus's godmother ... sort of.

"I'm her honorary godmother. I've known her since she was a baby," Parton told ABC of her close relationship with Miley Cyrus. "Her father (Billy Ray Cyrus) is a friend of mine. And when she was born, he said, 'You just have to be her godmother,' and I said, 'I accept.' We never did do a big ceremony, but I'm so proud of her, love her, and she's just like one of my own." Parton also played Aunt Dolly on Cyrus's series Hannah Montana.

6. Dolly Parton received death threats from the Ku Klux Klan.

A photo of Dolly Parton on stage
Getty Images

In the mid-2000s, Dollywood joined the ranks of family amusement parks participating in "Gay Days," a time when families with LGBTQ members are encouraged to celebrate together in a welcoming community environment. This riled the KKK, but their threats didn't scare Dolly. "I still get threats," she has admitted. "But like I said, I'm in business. I just don't feel like I have to explain myself. I love everybody."

7. Dolly Parton started her own "library" to promote literacy, and has given away more than 100 million books.

In 1995, the pop culture icon founded Dolly Parton's Imagination Library with the goal of encouraging literacy in her home state of Tennessee. Over the years, the program—built to mail children age-appropriate books—spread nationwide, as well as to Canada, the UK, and Australia. When word of the Imagination Library hit Reddit, the swarms of parents eager to sign their kids up crashed the Imagination Library site. It is now back on track, accepting new registrations and donations.

8. There's a statue of Dolly Parton in her hometown of Sevierville, Tennessee.

A stone's throw from Dollywood, Sevierville, Tennessee is where Parton grew up. Between stimulating tourism and her philanthropy, this proud native has given a lot back to her hometown. And Sevierville residents returned that appreciation with a life-sized bronze Dolly that sits barefoot, beaming, and cradling a guitar, just outside the county courthouse. The sculpture, made by local artist Jim Gray, was dedicated on May 3, 1987. Today it is the most popular stop on Sevierville's walking tour.

9. The cloned sheep Dolly was named after Dolly Parton.

In 1995 scientists successfully created a clone from an adult mammal's somatic cell. This game-changing breakthrough in biology was named Dolly. But what about Parton inspired this honor? Her own groundbreaking career? Some signature witticism or beloved lyric? Nope. It was her legendary bustline. English embryologist Ian Wilmut revealed, "Dolly is derived from a mammary gland cell and we couldn't think of a more impressive pair of glands than Dolly Parton's."

10. Dolly Parton turned down an offer from Elvis Presley.

After Parton made her own hit out of "I Will Always Love You," Elvis Presley's manager, Colonel Tom Parker, reached out in hopes of having Presley cover it. But part of the deal demanded Parton surrender half of the publishing rights to the song. "Other people were saying, 'You're nuts. It's Elvis Presley. I'd give him all of it!'" Parton admitted, "But I said, 'I can't do that. Something in my heart says don't do that.' And I didn't do it and they didn't do it." It may have been for the best. Whitney Houston's cover for The Bodyguard soundtrack in 1992 was a massive hit that has paid off again and again for Parton.

11. In 2018, Dolly Parton earned two Guinness World Records.

Parton is no stranger to breaking records. And on January 17, 2018 it was announced that she holds not one but two spot in the Guinness World Records 2018 edition: One for Most Decades With a Top 20 Hit on the US Hot Country Songs Chart (she beat out George Jones, Reba McEntire, and Elvis Presley for the honor) and the other for Most Hits on US Hot Country Songs Chart By a Female Artist (with a total of 107). Parton said she was "humbled and blessed."

5 Facts About Edgar Allan Poe

You’ve read Edgar Allan Poe’s terrifying stories. You can quote "The Raven." But how well do you know the writer’s quirky sense of humor and code-cracking abilities? Let’s take a look at a few things you might not know about the acclaimed author, who was born on January 19, 1809.

1. Edgar Allan Poe was the original Balloon Boy.

You probably remember 2009’s infamous “Balloon Boy” hoax. Turns out the Heene family that perpetrated that fraud weren’t even being entirely original in their attempt at attention-grabbing. They were actually cribbing from Poe.

In 1844 Poe cooked up a similar aviation hoax in the pages of the New York Sun. The horror master cranked out a phony news item describing how a Mr. Monck Mason had flown a balloon flying machine called Victoria from England to Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina in just 75 hours. According to Poe’s story, the balloon had also hauled seven passengers across the ocean.

No balloonist had ever crossed the Atlantic before, so this story quickly became a huge deal. Complete transatlantic travel in just three days? How exciting! Readers actually queued up outside the Sun’s headquarters to get their mitts on a copy of the day’s historic paper.

Poe’s report on the balloon was chock full of technical details. He devoted a whole paragraph to explaining how the balloon was filled with coal gas rather than “the more expensive and inconvenient hydrogen.” He listed the balloon’s equipment, which included “cordage, barometers, telescopes, barrels containing provision for a fortnight, water-casks, cloaks, carpet-bags, and various other indispensable matters, including a coffee-warmer, contrived for warming coffee by means of slack-lime, so as to dispense altogether with fire, if it should be judged prudent to do so.” He also included hundreds of words of excerpts from the passengers’ journals.

The only catch to Poe’s story was that it was entirely fictitious. The Sun’s editors quickly wised up to Poe’s hoax, and two days later they posted an understated retraction that noted, “We are inclined to believe that the intelligence is erroneous.”

2. Edgar Allan Poe dabbled in cryptography.

If you’ve read Poe’s story “The Gold-Bug,” you probably know that he had a working knowledge of cryptography. But you might not know that Poe was actually a pretty darn good cryptographer in his own right.

Poe’s first notable code-cracking began in 1839. He sent out a call for readers of his Philadelphia newspaper to send him encoded messages that he could decipher. Poe would then puzzle over the secret messages for hours. He published the results of his work in a wildly popular recurring feature. Poe also liked to toss his own codes out there to keep readers busy. Some of the codes were so difficult that Poe professed utter amazement when even a single reader would crack them.

Poe was so confident in his abilities as a cryptographer that he approached the Tyler administration in 1841 with an offer to work as a government code cracker. He modestly promised, “Nothing intelligible can be written which, with time, I cannot decipher.” Apparently there weren’t any openings for him, though.

3. The "Allan" came later for Edgar Allan Poe.

It would sound odd to just say “Edgar Poe,” but the famous “Allan” wasn’t originally part of the writer’s name. Poe was born in Boston on January 19, 1809 to professional actors, but his early childhood was fairly rotten. When Poe was just two years old, his father abandoned the family—leaving the toddler's mother, Elizabeth, to raise Edgar and his two siblings. Not long after that, Elizabeth died of tuberculosis.

Poe actually had a little luck at that point. John and Frances Allan, a well-to-do Richmond family, took the boy in and provided for his education. Although the Allans never formally adopted Poe, he added their surname to his own name.

Like a lot of Poe’s fiction, his story with the Allans didn't have a particularly happy ending. Poe and John Allan grew increasingly distant during the boy’s teenage years, and after Poe left for the University of Virginia, he and Allan became estranged. (Apparently the root of these problems involved Poe’s tendency to gamble away whatever money Allan sent him to subsidize his studies.)

4. Edgar Allan Poe had a nemesis.

Like a lot of writers, Poe had a rival. His was the poet, critic, and editor Rufus Griswold. Although Griswold had included Poe’s work in his 1842 anthology The Poets and Poetry of America, Poe held an extremely low opinion of Griswold’s intellect and literary integrity. Poe published an essay blasting Griswold’s selections for the anthology, and their rivalry began.

Things really heated up when Griswold succeeded Poe as the editor of Graham’s Magazine at a higher salary than Poe had been pulling in. Poe began publicly lambasting Griswold’s motivations; he even went so far as to claim that Griswold was something of a literary homer who puffed up New England poets.

Poe might have had a point about Griswold’s critical eye, but Griswold had the good fortune to outlive Poe. After Poe died, Griswold penned a mean-spirited obituary in which he stated that the writer’s death “will startle many, but few will be grieved by it” and generally portrayed Poe as an unhinged maniac.

Slamming a guy in his obituary is pretty low, but Griswold was just getting warmed up. He convinced Poe’s aunt, Maria Clemm, to make him Poe’s literary executor. Griswold then published a biography of Poe that made him out to be a drug-addled drunk, all while keeping the profits from a posthumous edition of Poe’s work.

5. Edgar Allan Poe's death was a mystery worth of his writing.

In 1849 Poe left New York for a visit to Richmond, but he never made it that far south. Instead, Poe turned up in front of a Baltimore bar deliriously raving and wearing clothes that didn’t fit. Passersby rushed Poe to the hospital, but he died a few days later without being able to explain what happened to him.

Poe’s rumored causes of death were “cerebral inflammation” and “congestion of the brain,” which were polite euphemisms for alcohol poisoning. Modern scholars don’t totally buy this explanation, though. The characterization of Poe as a raging drunk mostly comes from Griswold’s posthumous smear campaign, and his incoherent state of mind may have been the result of rabies or syphilis.

Some Poe fans subscribe to a more sinister theory about the writer’s death, though. They think he may have fallen victim to “cooping,” a sordid 19th century political practice. Gangs of political thugs would round up homeless or weak men and hold them captive in a safe place called a “coop” right before a major election. On election day—and there was an election in Baltimore on October 3, 1849, the day Poe was found—the gangs would then drug or beat the hostages before taking them around to vote at multiple polling places.

This story sounds like something straight out of Poe’s own writing, but it might actually be true. Poe’s crummy physical state and delirium would be consistent with a victim of cooping, and the ill-fitting clothes jibe with gangs’ practice of making their hostages change clothes so they could cast multiple votes. With no real evidence either way, though, Poe’s death remains one of literature’s most fascinating mysteries.

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