The Global Effect of the Invention of Soap

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Cheslee Morgan
Felux Period 4
January/February 2013

“If I rub my hands with it, soap foams, exults…
The more complaisant it makes them, supple,
Smooth, docile, the more slobbers, the more
Its rage becomes voluminous, pearly…
Magic Stone!
The more it forms with air and water
Clusters of scented grapes,
Explosive…
Water, air and soap
Overlap, play
At leapfrog, form
Combinations less chemical than
Physical, gymnastical, acrobatical
Rhetorical?
There is much to say about soap.”
--Francis Ponge, Italian Renaissance Literature, “Soap.” The Culture of Cleanliness in Renaissance Italy.

Soap; such a simple word with a huge meaning. Oxford dictionary defines soap as, “a substance used with water for washing and cleaning, made of a compound of natural oils or fats with sodium hydroxide.” And that is just it. Soap, although simple, is also so very complex, and used to improve so much. Soap is commercially and socially used for cleaning and sanitation and has had a very significant impact on the health of the overall world.

Although the very first usage and production of soap was never officially documented, it is said to be possible that soap could have been discovered/used in as far back as early prehistoric times. Though the creation of soap is a very old process, typically in early civilizations, it was not widely used by the peoples of those specific times. Even in modern times the lack of soap has caused epidemics of small, and sometimes even large, proportions. Juergen Eichholtz, states, “In Europe alone, the annually recurring influenza epidemics or severe virus epidemics could be tackled through improved hygiene. The EHEC epidemic in Germany in 2011, or the recently imported Noro virus from China which paralyzed many students in German primary schools, clearly demonstrate the need for regular hand washing with soap.” Washing your hands with soap is so quick and simple, yet so often neglected. Many epidemics in the early history before soap, are known to have been avoidable if soap was more commonly used and more commonly available. The Global Handwashing Organization goes on to explain on their website, “handwashing can prevent the transmission of a variety of pathogens, it may be more effective than any single vaccine. Promoted on a wide enough scale, handwashing with soap can be thought of as a “do-it-yourself” vaccine. Ingraining the habit of handwashing could save more lives than any single vaccine or medical intervention.”They further prove that soap has a significant impact on health by comparing soap to a vaccine. Here, the GHO (Global Handwashing Organization) is trying to discuss their idea of a simple vaccination without the trouble of a traditional vaccination.

Many things in the past were used in place of soap. Including items such as strigils that were used in ancient Rome , clay cylinders containing a soap like substance that were used in Babylon, and Ebers papyrus that was used for reference in ancient Egypt. Before soap was officially declared to have been an invented substance and noted in medical notebooks, exclusive Muslim soap makers and chemists used vegetable oils, aromatic oils, and lye as a sort of soap for cleaning and cleansing. These oils could also be replaced by the fats of animals, typically killed for sacrifices, mixed with wood ashes and lye to create another sort of soap. This process was widely used for making soap, and was how many civilizations and people created soap before it was mass sold for profit and general benefit.

One of the most famous sanitation projects can be found in Ancient Rome in the widely known Roman Bathes. The Roman civilization developed a series of aqueducts that stretched over approximately 260 miles of land. These aqueducts lead to public fountains, wealthy elite’ homes, and to the famous Roman bathes. The Romans were one of the first, if not the first civilization to develop public bathes where citizens could come and bathe and...
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