Sunday, March 17, 2024

"Irish" Green Soap is Really from Zanesville???

Around this time of year, I am often reminded of a good friend of mine back in graduate school who used to enjoy saying, "I'm Irish, so I cut my soap with a knife." The days of the ubiquitous Irish Spring soap commercials seem to be in the past now, and it's probably for the best: the Irish don't deserve to suffer such stereotyping any more than anyone else does.

Front cover, undated brochure, ca. 1870s. Chromolithography by
"The Calvert Lith. Co. Detroit"

Rear cover of brochure.

But I was delighted, a handful of days ago, to come across this little advertising brochure, probably from the 1870s, that might indicate that the association between Irish folks and green soap in particular is not only a long one, but one that might have arisen, of all places, in Zanesville, Ohio. 

I am always fascinated by the tiniest and most ephemeral of books, and this little single-fold brochure sports fine chromolithographed front and back covers, each with its own share of Irish stereotypes on display. The product, Schultz's Irish Soap, was a laundry soap, marketed by Schultz & Co. of Zanesville, who described themselves as " 'The' Soap Boilers,"--a fine early use of scare quotation marks.

The lengthy advertising text on the interior is filled with superlatives, and it specifically claims that this product was "the first colored Laundry or Family Soap ever produced." Moreover, "One of the reason why articles washed with Irish Soap are whiter than when washed with ordinary soap is that Irish is colored with indigo (and the process of coloring soap with indigo is patented by and belongs solely to Schultz & Co.)." 

Naturally, there were many imitators: "Remember that the market is now flooded with cheap green and blue soaps, all of which are imitations of 'The Great Original Irish.' and you should shun them as you would any other counterfeit." The Irish Spring of the soap-cutting commercials seems a likely descendant, though the Schultz patent must have run out long before. 

But I would never have guessed in a million years that the manufacture of green soap had any claim to have originated in Zanesville, Ohio. 

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