This year marks the 70th anniversary for Dr. Bronner’s, and 160 years of soapmaking for the Bronner family. The milestone brought up a host of questions for us. How could we encapsulate the long, strange story of our company into something digestible? How could we show that Dr. Bronner’s matured alongside the customers and retailers who were championing our products? Was there some way to show how our company was shaped by, and drew inspiration from, the environmental, peace and cultural movements of the time?
We decided to make a series of short animations—one for each decade—that would weave the story of our company within the larger story of what was happening for our customers and society at large. These are some of the events that shaped us and brought us to this moment.
Below is each of the animations, alongside a short description of the movements and milestones that it depicts!
In the 1950s, Dr. Bronner was just beginning to sell his soaps. From the start his goal was to Unite Spaceship Earth, and his soaps were a vehicle for this message. He believed in healthy living and was part of the nascent environmental movement, concerned with pollution of the air and oceans. He loved poetry, and the rhythm of the words on his labels echoed those of the era’s Beat poets.
In the 1960s, Dr. Bronner’s grew alongside the natural food stores and coops that were spreading around the US. Emanuel Bronner’s own concerns reflected the Cold War era, when a nuclear doomsday seemed imminent. He would urgently share his message of peace across with anyone who would listen. His words resonated with the burgeoning counterculture, which included people who were fighting against the Vietnam War, for civil rights and women’s liberation—while questioning social norms and exploring the power of psychedelics to heal the soul.
In the 1970s, Dr. Bronner and his soaps began getting more media attention—a profile in Esquire Magazine called his soaps “Magic” and the description stuck. He continued to be fascinated by the cosmos, and must have closely followed the explorations of the Voyager spacecrafts, which launched in 1977.
The environmental movement continued to grow—consciousness spread that we must care for “Spaceship Earth” as a single ecosystem. The LGBTQ movement gained ground in the 1970s, and a rainbow flag was flown for the first time in 1978—Dr. Bronner’s has also adopted a version of the rainbow to represent our belief that we are All-One!
The 1980s brought both hope and challenges for the Bronners and their soap company. Emanuel Bronner’s belief that he was running a non-profit organization led to conflicts with the IRS and the brink of bankruptcy. His son Jim Bronner had started his own successful chemical company and stepped in to keep his father’s company going. The passing of the Montreal Protocol in 1987 represented a bright spot for the environmental movement, with the world uniting to take action. And in 1989, the fall of the Berlin Wall was evidence that “there are brave souls who dare to dream that men are brothers and not foes.
The ‘90s saw the passing away of Dr. Bronner, his children and grandchildren taking up the “All-One” mantle. While “Uncle” Ralph continued to spread his father’s message with hugs and songs, his grandchildren innovated by adding hemp oil to the soaps, planting an early flag for the cause of cannabis legalization. Medical cannabis was legalized in California—society was beginning to believe in the healing potential of cannabis and other psychedelics!
The new millennium has brought both opportunities and challenges for the globe and Dr. Bronner’s—Emanuel Bronner’s message of peace and unity remains as relevant as ever! As the earth’s climate has rapidly warmed and its environment degraded, Dr. Bronner’s commitment to environmental causes, climate-friendly regenerative organic farming and equitable business practices have made it a progressive business leader.
Rafi Loiederman is Content Editor at Dr. Bronner’s, and has been using the company’s products for over 20 years. He enjoys recording and performing music, is an avid hiker and naturalist, and an erstwhile linguist.