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1950s Lessons in Germ-Fighting from a Giant Bar of Talking Soap

February 21, 2018 in History

By Allison McNearney

History Flashback takes a look at historical “found footage” of all kinds—newsreels, instructional films, even cartoons—to give us a glimpse into how much things have changed, and how much has remained the same.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that getting kids to care about their personal hygiene will always be a Herculean task. The most popular toys and sleep training techniques may change with the decades, but one thing will always remain the same: convincing your little ones to wash up is a challenge.

In 1951, a group of well-meaning adults came up with an idea for how to convince young boys and girls to wash their hands. They created an educational video starring a ghostly bar of talking soap that visited kids in the middle of the night to instruct them on the importance of cleanliness. Watching this over 60 years later, it’s hard to determine whether children in the 1950s found this to be informative or merely terrifying. But what we do know is that this cinematic gem is a hilarious look back at how this centuries-old hygiene problem was tackled many decades ago.

Soap Is Very, Very Old 

While the identity of the clean freak who invented soap remains unknown, the earliest use of the sudsy cleanser on record dates back to the ancient Babylonians around 2800 B.C. After discovering that a mix of animal fat and ash would produce a cleaning product, they helpfully wrote the recipe down on clay tablets for archeologists to later find.

The Babylonians weren’t the only ancients who benefited from this concoction. In the 1st century, the Roman philosopher Pliny the Elder wrote about the early Romans’ soap making techniques, and bars of soap were discovered in the excavated ruins of Pompeii after the Mount Vesuvius eruption buried the city in 78 A.D.

Early American Colonialists Were a Bit Stinky

It’s not just our stubborn little ones who have resisted what we now know as the basic and essential standards of hygiene. It took the early Americans over a hundred years to discover the benefits of bathing. According to author James Ciment in his book Colonial America, bathing for the purpose of cleanliness didn’t hit most Americans’ radars until the 1780s. Before that, they thought a good splash in the water was only useful as …read more

Source: HISTORY

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