Soaps and detergents: What are they and where did they come from?

History of soaps and detergentsThe American Cleaning Institute describes the history of soaps and detergents starting with the ancient Babylonians, who left clay jars containing a mixture of ashes and animal fat, the ingredients of soap. The Romans bathed but the medieval Europeans did not; their filth facilitated the spread of disease. In the Renaissance, soap was taxed as a luxury item, but by 1850, it was mass-produced and considered an essential housekeeping tool. Germany developed detergents, which are chemically synthesized surfactants, in 1916 in response to a lack of raw materials caused by World War I. Today, detergents have largely replaced soap for most cleaning needs.

Visit the American Cleaning Institute to learn about how soap and detergents are made as well as to find cleaning agent safety information.
Soaps & Detergents: History


Join the Hunt for a Mysterious Sleight-of-Hand Magician

Artifice, Ruse and ErdnaseHurt McDermott has just published an intriguing book about an early 20th c. magician and card shark in Chicago who insisted on keeping his identity secret. Love Chicago? History? Magic? Buy Artifice, Ruse & Erdnase:  The Search for One Who May Not Want to Be Found today!

The Tea Party Movement Organizes

RE Tea PartyWithin hours of the Rick Santelli Santelli’s February 19 jeremiad against government help for distressed homeowners, San Diego activist Anthony Astolfi mounted this website to organize the first coordinated “tea party” protests. His was soon joined by dozens of other new websites and Facebook pages. In response, fifty conservative leaders participated in a conference call to organize a “Nationwide Chicago Tea Party” protest coordinated to occur in about forty cities on February 27, 2009.  The Tea Party movement was born.

RE Tea

Jump Back and Forth in Time with WhatWasThere

What Was ThereEnlighten Ventures, an Ann Arbor marketing firm, invites users to upload their scanned historic photos. The company then matches these contributed snaps to the current street view in Google maps. The photos are placed on a map and superimposed over photos of the buildings that exist today in the same location.

Search WhatWasThere to find the photos and then use the screen fader to change the transparency of the overlaid historic image. The effect is like moving backward and forward in time. Download the free iPhone app to have an “augmented reality” experience of the history that surrounds you as you travel. Join the site for free to upload your own historical photos.

What Was There

Map the Past with Historypin

HistorypinLondon’s “We Are What We Do” is a non-profit that aims to enable the public to help with environmental and social issues. In 2010, it partnered with Google to create Historypin, a database of user-supplied historical photos and information which they collect and superimpose over Google Street Views. The point is to connect people and their stories across geography and generations. Libraries, schools and historical archives are encouraged to scan and upload old photos to create virtual “tours”of the past and collections of memories. Historypin plans to add the ability to play sound and videos soon.

Sign in to Historypin with your Google password. Historypin is also available as a free Android app.


Learn about the history of western architecture from Spiro Kostof

Architecture lecturesDr. Kostof (1936-1991) was a renowned architectural historian. View the 26-part video of the entire semester of his last class “A Historical Survey of Architecture and Urbanism,” taught at University of California at Berkeley in 1991. Kostof starts with Florence in the Renaissance and moves forward to late 20th century architecture. Sit back and learn! You don’t even have to take the exam.

Old Weather invites us to transcribe 100 year old ship logs.

Old WeatherMilitary naval vessels record the weather six times a day. Because ships move around, we can think of them as de facto mobile weather stations. Britain’s National Archives has scanned the logs of 250 ships from the extended First World War period, from 1913 to 1923. Old Weather asks us to help transcribe these 250,000 log pages. What we find there will help scientists to understand what the weather was like 100 years ago. This reconstructed weather information may give us insight into climate change today.