MIKE KEELER: The Lasting Legacy of Doctor Bronner and His Magic Soap

Mike Keeler

The Doctor is dead. But he’s still trying to clean up the world’s messes.

The Heilbronner family were soap makers. They got their name from their home town of Heilbronn, Germany. In 1929, one of their own, young Emanuel Heilbronner, emigrated to the United States and pleaded with his family to follow him. They refused, and as a result they lost their lives in the Holocaust.

When he arrived in Chicago, Emanuel dropped the “Heil” from his name as a protest against Hitler. He developed a quasi-religious philosophy he called “All-God-One-Faith” which got him into trouble. He was arrested while promoting his beliefs, was institutionalized and given shock treatments. He escaped from the madhouse on his third try.

He moved to California and struggled to survive. But he never lost his faith. After several years working in the soap industry, he developed one of the world’s oddest consumer products: Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap. It’s a liquid castile soap, made entirely from vegetable oils. But it’s the label that makes it truly unique. Plastered with philosophical quotes from Moses, Jesus, Ghandi, Lincoln and Ali (Muhammad, that is), Dr. Bronner’s is hands-down the most entertaining packaging ever created. Adopted by hippies in the 1960’s, it has since moved out of health food stores and into the main stream.

For the last 30 years of his life, Dr. Bronner was blind, and he died in 1997. But his vision for world peace lives on in his product, now overseen by his grandchildren. The major ingredients in the soap are organic and fair trade, and obtained from places like Ghana, Sri Lanka, Samoa, India, and Kenya. No company executive makes more than 5 times the worker salary, and roughly one-third of profits go to causes like drug policy reform, animal rights, and fighting against GMO’s. The company bought a boat, the MV Emanuel Bronner, for the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. And they actively lobby for the medical use of psychoactive substances and the import and production of hemp oils.

So, you wanna help clean up the world? Then grab a bottle, enjoy the funny package, and take the Doctor’s orders: remember your Moral ABC’s!

Cleanliness! Godliness! ALL ONE, CHILDREN! ALL ONE!!