Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soapbox

Reckon So Productions. <i>88 minutes</i>.

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.


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.

FACT:

Mother Jones was founded as a nonprofit in 1976 because we knew corporations and the wealthy wouldn't fund the type of hard-hitting journalism we set out to do.

Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jones, please join us with a tax-deductible donation today so we can keep on doing the type of journalism 2020 demands.

payment methods

FACT:

Mother Jones was founded as a nonprofit in 1976 because we knew corporations and the wealthy wouldn't fund the type of hard-hitting journalism we set out to do.

Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jones, please join us with a tax-deductible donation today so we can keep on doing the type of journalism 2020 demands.

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