We recently got a soap for the bathroom that I just cannot figure out.  It seems like a pleasant enough thing, a bottle of “French Orange” whatsit with a convenient pump dispenser.  I’ve done the requisite counter clockwise turn to deploy the pump, but I get nothing.  Pump as I might, the soap is not forthcoming.  Its good soap, I know, as I’ve unscrewed the lid and dabbed a bit on my palm to wash my hands from time to time.  I just can not get at it by pumping the handle

This is, of course, ludicrous.

Soap has now become such an assumed convenience that I am frustrated by the inability of a mass produced pump to deliver it o me.    Though it was invented in 1865, liquid glycerine soap in a convenient bottle was not even available XXX years ago. Most American houses did nit have internal bathroom,s with sinks before 1900.  Benjamin Franklin used homemade soap as a token of his authenticity as an American.  It was very crude stuff, closer to a hard biscuit than to soap, but such was the technology of the day.  The first recorded mention of soap is the Mid-eastern recipe for boiling ashes with animal fats, 5,000 years ago. The first chemical industry using continuous processes on a large scale, in France and the UK, was for making Soda Ash, mostly for the production of soap, in 1791.

The spring pump on my fershlugginer bottle is even younger*, but no less troublesome to me in this particular instance.  The spring pump was the key to the debut of this kind of soap.  Even though it had been invented in 1865, people still used bar soap until the debut of “soft-soap” in 1980.  The sole producer, Minnetonka Brands, had to buy up all the spring pump stock of the two companies that made spring pumps, and ordered a two years supply of the pumps going forward.  Minnetonka spent more on pumps and pump futures than the company was worth, all to prevent established soap producers from stealing the idea.  Nothing in is his idea was patented, after all, so they had to ensure market dominance by controlling the supply.

After weeks of drowsy visits to the bathroom, we finally emptied anther liquid soap bottle and poured the offending sop into that one.  And it works great!  From one readymade to another.  That’s as clever as we have to be in most things these days.


This article was hard to write, not just because I couldn’t find the origin story or data of the spring pump dispenser, but also because I thought the story of soap would be deadly dull.  Little did I know that the story of liquid soap was a story of disruption and corporate combat.  Dovetails nicely with the book I’m reading these days.