1918 Ivory Soap Advertisement

Source: American Cookery (February, 1918)

Based on this hundred-year-old advertisement, it looks like people used bar soap to wash dishes. According to Hunker, dishwashing detergents were invented during World War I and only came into common use during the mid-1900’s:

Soap was used for cleaning until 1916, when there was a shortage of fats needed to produce it during World War I. Because there was still a need for a cleaning product, synthetic versions were invented, which are now known as detergents.

There was also a movement towards using detergents because there was a need for a cleaning agent that did not leave behind a residue as soap did, especially on fabric. Upon their appearance, detergents became common products for cleaning dishes and clothing. While many people still used regular soap, by 1953 most households were using detergents.

23 thoughts on “1918 Ivory Soap Advertisement

    1. I can remember the flakes in the boxes. I used to use it when washing baby clothes. My memory is that it was supposed to gentler on baby’s skin than regular laundry detergents.

    1. I’d totally forgotten about that. Now that you mention it, I have very vague memories of making Ivory soap sculptures with my mother. I can’t remember exactly what we made, but I know that it was fun.

  1. My grandmother used ivory soap,I should say that’s all she used the bar and the detergent. Love the photo ad… I don’t think I looked so sweet doing dishes at that age.😁

  2. At one point back in the 60s or 70s I decided to give up detergents to spare the water supply. So I returned to soap (still available in boxes for dish washing.) What a difference. Everything was so scummy. I had to give up being virtuous and return to detergents.

  3. That’s something that people used bar soap to wash dishes. I’m very grateful for the choices we have now. Despite its claims of being so very pure, Ivory soap makes my nose itch.

  4. My mother was born in 1916 and was a young wife and mother during the 1930s and 40s. She had allergies to every kind of soap available at the time except the Ivory bar and it was used for everything in the house including doing dishes and shampooing. Ironically, I went to work for Procter & Gamble as a secretary in 1950 and one of the advertising executives asked what I used for shampoo. I was ashamed to say I used Ivory bar soap and instead named Drene, one of their popular shampoos at the time, but actually I preferred the Ivory I had used all my life.

    1. Your comment made me really focus on their facial expressions. It’s interesting how the the girl looks very sweet (but not exactly happy) and the mother appears to be overseeing the girl’s work while putting the dishes away. Doing dishes and other household chores could be so time-consuming back then. No wonder they weren’t smiling.

  5. My grandfather always washed his dishes with a bar of soap (after my grandmother died.) I just assumed that he didn’t know any better, but maybe he grew up watching his mother do the same? I always learn something interesting from your blog, thanks!

    1. I’ll bet you are right. After my mother died, some of the methods that my father used to prepare food seemed very old-fashioned (and I think that he was using methods that his mother had taught him as a child).

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