First Certificate of Soap-Manufacture issued to Emmanuel Heilbronner. Manufacture of soaps begins in the basement of the Heilbronner home in the Jewish quarter of Laupheim, Germany. The family also manufactures candles for the Jewish sabbath.
Heilbronners innovate the first liquid castile soap and supply public washrooms across Germany.
Much larger factory in Heilbronn, Germany opens. Bar soap sold across Germany under the 'Madaform' brand. The three Heilbronner sons of Emanuel including the youngest, Berthold, are running the family soap business.
Emanuel (Emil) Heilbronner born to Berthold and Franciska, the only male heir of the three Heilbronner brothers. Younger sisters Luise and Lotte are born two and ten years later.
Emil is apprenticed to another Jewish soap-making family in Southern Germany, according to the tradition of the time. Subsequently attends the guild system trade school and receives his Soapmaking Master certificate. Then attends University and receives a degree in Chemistry.
Emil's powerful personality, Zionist ideals and ideas for more modern soap-making lead to repeated clashes with his father and uncles. Emil emigrates to the U.S.
Emil works as a consultant to various U.S. soap and chemical specialty manufacturers, primarily in factory design and product development. Emil drops 'Heil' from his last name with rise of Hitler. Meets and marries first wife Paula, a Catholic hotel maid.
Emil and Paula bear a daughter and two sons, Ellen (1934), Ralph (1936) and Jim (1938).
Lotte, as part of the Zionist movement, emigrates to then Palestine and joins the Ein Gev kibbutz, located on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee by the Golan Heights. (Lotte currently resides in Haifa, with children and grandchildren living throughout Israel.
Emil's sisters unsuccessfully attempt to persuade their parents to leave Germany for America, during a family vacation in Switzerland.
Luise emigrates to the U.S., getting out just before the Nazis close the borders to Jewish emigration. Obtains degree first in Chemistry and works in industry, then returns to school for a PhD. and becomes a professor of German at UMass Boston. (Luise passed away in 1998.)
The Nazis nationalize the soap factory in Heilbronn. Dr. Bronner's parents Berthold and Franciscka are deported to and eventually murdered in the death camps, Auschwitz and Theriesenstadt.
Dr. Bronner's wife Paula becomes sick and is hospitalized, dying in 1944.
Emil adopts honorific “Dr.” in deference to his university degree, but never actually got a doctorate. However, with his intensity, immense scientific knowledge, and thick German accent, no one would ever challenge him about it. Begins urgent mission to convince Roosevelt, Eisenhower and other American leaders, as well as the American public, about his vision for world peace across ethnic and faith traditions, and about the dangers of Communism alongside Fascism. So devoted is he to this mission that he leaves his children to be raised in various foster homes.
Fred Walker (willingly) crucified for “Dr. Bronner’s Peace Plan” on a Chicago bridge; Dr. Bronner had no direct involvement. In part due to his increasing notoriety, Dr. Bronner arrested while speaking without a permit at the University of Chicago, and was institutionalized in the Elgin State Insane asylum for vehemently espousing his views. Undergoes shock treatments which were thought to be the miracle cures of the time, which he blamed for his subsequent declining eyesight and blindness in the 1960’s. He escapes some months later and travels to Los Angeles, where he is fond of saying he fit right in.
The first incarnation of the current Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps company begins. Begins manufacture of famous liquid Peppermint soap and health food seasonings. Exact beginning date is a bit unclear. We surmise Dr. Bronner tied his company's start to Israel's founding, probably around when the Peppermint soap label switched from black and gold to blue and white after the Six Days War.
Dr. Bronner lectures primarily in Pershing Square in LA, a hot-bed of activism of all stripes. He sees the need for the world to unite before it destroys itself, and he exhorts all people to unite as one, to respect each other and the environment, and he encourages all religions to recognize their universal similarities inspired by the same divine source. Dr. Bronner sees planetariums as being the 'All-One!' temples of the future, where humanity can realize how vanishingly trivial their differences are on Spaceship Earth in the celestial majesty of Creation.
On the side, he sells his Peppermint soap. He soon realizes that many people are taking the soap and leaving without listening to him speak. In response, Dr. Bronner begins to write his philosophy in dense tiny script on the labels of each bottle.
In the meantime, sons Jim and Ralph periodically help with the business, Ralph more with the labels and messages, and Jim with the actual production. Ralph becomes a school teacher in Wisconsin, and Jim spends eight years in the Navy.
Young people, primarily members of the counter-culture, come to love the soap with which they could do everything: from washing their VW vans, to cleaning their bell-bottoms, to washing themselves by the nearby lake. They also groove on the label's call to peace and the fact that Dr. Bronner is a real person, not some corporate mascot. Word-of-mouth soon makes Dr. Bronner's the iconic soap of that era.
Dr. Bronner moves the bottling and shipping plant to Escondido, CA (North County San Diego) in the 60's. He meets and marries Gladys, his wife until he dies. Jim is now overseeing manufacture of the soap in the Los Angeles facility full-time, and he becomes the Vice President of R&D and Production.
Dr. Bronner's soaps spread into every health food store in the U.S. and then into the mainstream as well, winning over fans from all walks of life. Ralph Bronner continues to work with Dr. Bronner on refining the message on the bottles. Jim Bronner launches his own chemical consulting company, Bronner Chemical and Technical Consulting, inventing among other things a fire-fighting foam concentrate used in forest and structure fires throughout the U.S. today. His son David Bronner works in the company during high school and college summers.
Sons Jim and Ralph Bronner and Jim's wife Trudy Bronner assume formal control of Dr. Bronner's due to Dr. Bronner's failing health. Jim is full-time President, with Uncle Ralph as Vice-President serving as the company spokesperson, and Trudy serving as Treasurer/CFO. A generous health benefit and profit-sharing plan for all Dr. Bronner's employees is implemented. Ralph Bronner travels the country, visiting health food stores, playing guitar and befriending people from all walks of life, particularly those working in 'human,' as opposed to 'corporate,' charities which Dr. Bronner's supports with donations.
Dr. Bronner passes away with advanced Parkinson's among family and friends. On the same day, his great-granddaughter Maya Lin-Bronner is born to grandson David Bronner and his wife Kris Lin-Bronner.
Jim Bronner passes away from cancer, having spent a year training his son David Bronner in the business, who had also worked extensively in Bronner Chemical growing up. Under Jim's direction and Trudy's execution, a $1.4 million 1000-acre parcel of wilderness is donated to the Boys & Girls Club of San Diego, which is resold eight years later by the club with the Bronner family's permission to the Nature Conservancy for $2.5 million, to service San Diego's poorer and disadvantaged youth. (Trudy is a current board member of the San Diego Boys & Girls Club.)
David along with mom Trudy and Uncle Ralph begin running the company. David is only 24, but has graduated from Harvard, lived in Amsterdam for a few months after, worked as a mental health counselor for two years, and had gotten pretty ecological and passionate about many things, reflected in his vegan diet and advocacy for hemp. His middle name is “Emanuel” and has the “crazy like a fox” Dr. Bronner gene.
After extensive customer trials with customers, hemp seed oil is added as a superfatting ingredient in the soap, due to overwhelming support for the smoother lather and less drying afterfeel imparted by hemp oil's unsurpassed Essential Fatty Acids. David's well-traveled brother Michael joins the company, moving from Japan where he had taught English for three years after graduating from Brown University (where he spent a semester in Ethiopia), and manages operations and purchasing. Before long, Mike is coordinating Dr. Bronner's soaps into various countries around the world.
Dr. Bronner's partners with a Japanese firm to introduce Dr. Bronner's soaps to the Japanese market. By the end of the year, Dr. Bronner's is the top-selling brand of natural liquid and bar soap in Japan, just as in North America.
DEA under the Bush administration attempts to destroy the US hemp industry, issuing regulations purporting to interpret existing law to declare hemp illegal, and seizing shipments of hemp seed and oil at the Canadian border. Dr. Bronner's funds and coordinates the hemp industry's protracted and ultimately successful litigation with the DEA, culminating in a clean defeat of DEA on February 6, 2004 (Bob Marley's birthday) in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. http://www.votehemp.com/legal_cases_DEA.html David Bronner serves on the Vote Hemp board and is current President of the Hemp Industries Association.
Dr. Bronner's becomes the largest personal care company to be certified under the USDA's National Organic Program, with bar and liquid soaps certified by the highly reputable certifier Oregon Tilth. Dr. Bronner's also pioneers 100% post-consumer plastic bottles for its liquid soaps.
Family executives implement a 5 to 1 compensation cap between the top salaried and lowest wage warehouse position. The health plan for all employees is improved to a no-deductible “Preferred” PPO (vs HMO) plan. All profits not needed for business development or debt retirement, are dedicated to supporting various progressive causes and charities.
Uncle Ralph begins his off-off-broadway one-man show, telling various touching and amazing stories about his life, his father and Dr. Bronner's as a company.
The company partners with a Japanese firm to introduce Dr. Bronner's soaps to the Japanese market. By the end of the year, Dr. Bronner's is the top-selling brand of natural liquid and bar soap in Japan, just as in North America.
Dr. Bronner’s acquires Sun Dog Hemp Bodycare from long-time friend and activist Sue Kastensen. Sue joins Dr. Bronner’s to help reformulate her famous lip balms, body balms and lotions to USDA National Organic Program standards, which are launched in early 2005.
The USDA due to lobbying by various interests as well as being understaffed and unable to deal with the systemic organic labeling fraud in personal care, attempts to kick certified bodycare companies out of the National Organic Program, which it says is reserved for organic food. Dr. Bronner's coordinates litigation with the Organic Consumers Association against USDA in the DC Circuit Court of Appeals. The USDA has a change of heart, and issues a formal policy statement explicitly affirming non-food products like personal care can continue to be certified under the National Organic Program so long as it abides by the same rigorous standards as organic food.
Dr. Bronner's begins comprehensive project to source all major materials, including organic coconut, palm, olive and hemp oils from certified fair trade sources. Large investments are made in setting up a fair trade coconut oil project “Serindipol” in post-tsunami Sri Lanka. For the olive oil, Dr. Bronner's coordinates and funds fair trade and organic certification for the Canaan Fair Trade project in the West Bank, as well as Jewish and Arab-Israeli producers in Israel.. In partnership with the NGO Fearless Planet, organic sustainable palm oil is sourced on fair trade terms from farmers and a women-owned mill out of Ghana. Hemp Oil comes from the Canadian supplier Farmer Direct that is certified “Fair Deal”, the North American version of Fair Trade.
Dr. Bronner’s is formally certified as a Fair Trade company by the respected Swiss certifier IMO, who also certified all the individual projects that supply the raw materials for our soaps.
“Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soapbox” is an independent production that was not financed by the Bronner family or Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps in any way. However the film has moved the Bronner family to let people know about it.
The film features footage of Dr. Bronner, his fourth wife Gladys Bronner, late son Jim Bronner and the late Eldridge Cleaver of the Black Panthers which was shot, directed and produced by Stewart Nelsen in the early 1980’s. Current footage was shot by Lamm and Andrew Nagata and features family members who run the company today.
Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps celebrates its 60th anniversary and 150th year of making soap in the family for five generations, with a new line of USDA organic products.