I imagine the most striking thing people notice when looking at a Dr. Bronner’s product for the first time is its word-cluttered label, which I’m sure breaks every graphic design and typography rule out there. But at least it immediately lets you know that this company has never been overly concerned with convention.
Emanuel Bronner was a third-generation soap maker from a German Jewish family. His grandparents began making soap and candles in their basement in 1858. They later expanded to a large factory, and a thriving family business was established. Clashing with his family over his Zionist ideals, Emanuel Bronner immigrated to the United States in 1929. With a Master Soapmaker certification and a degree in chemistry, Bronner initially worked as a consultant in the Chicago area. During the 1930s he was married and had three children.
In the 1940s Bronner learned his parents were murdered in Nazi death camps, and soon thereafter his wife became ill and died. The following year, Bronner defined “Dr. Bronner’s Peace Plan,” which espoused world peace and warned of the dangers of Communism and Fascism. He strived to enlist Presidents Roosevelt and Eisenhower, other United States leaders, and the general public in his mission. He started to gain followers and was eventually institutionalized at the Elgin State asylum.
Later in 1948 he moved to southern California and founded Dr. Bronner’s soaps. He continued to espouse his message, which evolved to “All One”: exhorting all people to unite, respect each other and the environment, and to recognize that all religions are inspired by the same divine source. He often shared his message (and sold his soap) at Pershing Square, a public park in Los Angeles. After noticing that people were buying the soap but not sticking around to listen to his message, he began putting his elaborate doctrine on the soap’s packaging.
The company, now run by the 4th and 5th generation of Bronners, has continued to offer high quality, fair trade, organic soaps and other personal care items. Still guided by Dr. Bronner’s belief that “Constructive Capitalism is where you share the profit with the workers and the earth from which you made it,” the company offers generous salaries and benefits, and caps executive pay at five times the lowest paid position. (Just like the Moscow Food Co-op!)
Profits are used to fund only necessary business development, and the remainder goes to supporting humanitarian and environmental causes. Providing premium pay for Fair Trade products from around the world, the company supports regional projects such as drilling fresh-water wells, setting up composting operations that improve farmers’ soils, renovating schools, purchasing medical equipment, and providing mosquito nets to help prevent the spread of malaria.
Their mission statement reads: “Dr. Bronner’s is a family business committed to honoring the vision of our founder Dr. E.H. Bronner by making socially and environmentally responsible products of the highest quality, and by dedicating our profits to help make a better world. All-One!”
In reading about Dr. Bronner, Amy Newsome is reminded of the many freethinkers throughout history who were considered insane during their lifetimes because of their progressive views and passion for their beliefs.
Dr. Bronner’s Company Snapshot
Founded in 1948
Headquarters in Vista, California
$10-25 million in revenue