The first written evidences of soap-making go back to ancient Babylon, in about 2200BC.
Starting in ancient Middle East, the saponification of triglycerines with alkali to produce soap is a multi-millennium craft perpetuated generation after generation.
Soaps made with olive oil became an established industry during the Islamic golden age, with production in Syria, Palestine and Morocco. These soaps were highly sought after due to their pleasant smell and texture.
Around the Mediterranean, Naples, Venice, Marseilles and Spain (Castille) eventually became new production centres of fine soap, using olive oil as the sole source of triglycerides. The Castille and Marseille soap original recipe use only olive oil, but current soap producers may not respect this historical tradition.
Soap-making reached the industrial age in late 19th century when Procter and Gamble introduced Ivory, made of coconut and palm oils, and B.J. Johnson Soap Co introduced Palmolive, made of palm and olive oils.
Surfactants, or surface-active agents, are synthetic chemicals that became available in the 1930's, and quickly found usage in powder detergents. By 1950's, soap was almost completely displaced as a means of cleaning clothes. Similarly body washes, hand washes and liquid shampoos formulations replaced most of the traditional soap usage. "This may ruin the soap business. But if anybody is going to ruin the soap business it had be better be Procter & Gamble", said William Cooper Procter, Chairman of Procter and Gamble, speaking about synthetic detergents. Well it sure did.