The History of Soap
Soap has been with us in one form or another for thousands of years. The story goes that in Rome in around 1,000 B.C. at a place called Sapo Hill, the women were washing their clothes in a small tributary of the river Tiber, below a religious site where animal sacrifice took place. They noticed that the clothes became clean upon contact with the soapy clay which was dripping down the hill and into the water. It was noticed later that this cleansing agent was formed by the animal fat soaking through the wood ashes and into the clay soil.
Strangely, in the first century A.D., the Romans are credited with the making of a soap-like substance using urine. The ammonium carbonate in the urine was reacted with oils and fat in wool to form this 'soap'.
During the Eighth Century the Spanish and Italians began making what was more like modern soap from Beech Tree ash and Goat fat, whilst the French are credited with replacing the animal fat with Olive oil.
In England during the 17th century under King James I, soap makers were given 'special privileges' and the soap industry started developing more rapidly, although soaps were generally still made using caustic alkalies such as potash, leached from wood ashes and from carbonates from the ashes of plants or seaweed. The soaps made in this way were harsh and often rather unpleasant.
Soap as we know it today did not come about until the 18th century, when Nicholas Le Blanc, a Frenchman, discovered a reliable and inexpensive way of making sodium hydroxide (caustic soda), or lye as it is known to the soap maker, which forms the base with which soaps are made to this day.
Further developments in soap making were pioneered in Britain during the late 18th century with the invention of 'Transparent' soap by Andrew Pears, the son of a Cornish farmer. This refined soap was known then as it is now as Pears Transparent Soap.
Over the years and to the present day, opaque soaps have remained the favourite, mainly because transparent soaps tend to be more expensive and also don't last as long.