Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Don't Eat The Soap

You might recognize cocoa butter as a common ingredient in beauty products. But the cocoa butter is unscented. It wasn't always unscented.

Milton Hershey, you see, had some spare ingredient laying around. Lots of spare ingredient. He hated to let things go to waste, and there were a million pounds of surplus cocoa butter strewn about the Hershey factory. He tried to think of a use for it, and in 1936, he came up with the idea of chocolate soap.

To Hershey, that was that. He called in the manager of the Hershey Department Store, John Hosler, told him he was leaving for Cuba until March 1937 and to have a soap plant up and running by the time he got back. Why Hosler? Well, he sold soap, so surely he must know how to make soap.

That mistake was remedied; Hosler would eventually, after running into problems getting the cocoa butter to do what he wanted it to do, called people who actually knew what they were doing.

The bigger problem was the fact that the cocoa butter smelled like, well, cocoa. A perfume would have to be found to mask the smell, which would be fine except for the fact that Milton Hershey didn't want to spend a lot of money on the perfume. He arranged to test all the potential perfumes himself, every time asking how much each one cost while he smelled it. By some amazing coincidence- or rather due to the fact that Hershey had a cold that day and couldn't actually smell anything- he told them to use the cheapest one.

El Cheapo didn't work- what a surprise- and resulted in a long delay while they went through 300-plus perfumes anyway to find one that did.

Eventually, though, they did manage to get some actual soap made. That was Step 1. Step 2 was getting it sold. That process would begin in 1938.

And that would pose its own problems. Take the hockey game in Hershey Sports Arena on March 9, 1939. The Hershey Bears of the AHL (the only team to have uninterrupted AHL membership from then to now, by the way) were playing the Philadelphia Ramblers, with whom they had quickly developed a rivalry. Hershey wished to hand out soap as a promotion. He was advised to have it handed out as the fans left, so they couldn't throw it onto the ice during the game, but Hershey wanted it handed out before the game because a) they might miss some fans on the way out, and b) who would throw free soap?

As it turned out, enough people to stop the game for ten minutes in the second period. (Hershey won 7-3.)

That wasn't the biggest problem, though. Remember that cocoa smell? Once people actually took the soap home, they had... a brown, rectangle-shaped Hershey product that smelled like chocolate. Take a wild guess what the kids ended up trying to do.

Meanwhile, according to the book Hershey: Milton S. Hershey's Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams by Michael D'Antonio, Hershey was busy peeling layers off of his own skin to try to prove that the soap had healing properties.

You're welcome.

He was also setting up shop on the Atlantic City boardwalk so as to give personal demonstrations of the soap to potential customers. Often he would take up residence at the register. "Mr. Hershey will be pleased," he would tell customers, "very pleased, when he learns of your purchase."

You're welcome again.

The soap sold terribly, piling up below the Hershey Sports Arena. Despite the bad sales, Hershey wouldn't stop production until after World War 2, when the price of the raw cocoa butter became more valuable than the soap. That, not the poor sales, was ultimately what got the chocolate soap pulled off store shelves. (Except in the Hershey area, where it would for some reason still be sold until 1953.)

The odd scattered bar is actually still floating around if you're willing to look, though not enough to peg down a going rate.

1 comment:

Peter Lee said...

I have just started to eat raw cocao butter and found this blog post to be very good because it explains the benefits of eating raw cocao butter