Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soapbox

Reckon So Productions. 88 minutes.

Facts matter: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter. Support our nonprofit reporting. Subscribe to our print magazine.


If you’ve ever purchased a bottle of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap, you’ve no doubt wondered what’s up with the rambling phrases crammed onto the label, with their references to the “Moral ABC,” “All-One-God-Faith,” and “God’s Spaceship Earth.”

The story behind the tiny, disjointed doctrines, as told in the entertaining Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soapbox, is likely stranger, and sadder, than your wildest speculations. They were written by Emanuel Bronner, a German Jewish immigrant who escaped from an Illinois mental hospital in 1948 before making his way to California, where he established himself as a “master soapmaker chemist.” (It’s unclear where he picked up the “doctor.”) Bronner was a man obsessed, pushing his soap as everything from mouthwash to contraception while pursuing a fanatical, if somewhat endearing, desire to unite the human race.

Bronner, whose parents were killed in the Holocaust, repeatedly abandoned his two sons and a daughter in orphanages and foster homes. Director Sara Lamm reserves judgment, but the soapmaker’s progeny’s feelings are mixed. One son clearly thinks the old man was insane. The other has followed his dad’s spiritual path. “All of us that love the soap,” he says, “including me, are abnormal.” Bronner’s grandsons, who took over the multimillion-dollar business after he died in 1997, come across as savvy pragmatists. They’ve kept the famously cryptic label—but only as a quirky branding device.

We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate