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The Origin Story of Dr. Bronner's Soap and Its Famous Philosophical Packaging

From Audio: David Bronner - Cosmic Engagement Officer (CEO) Dr. Bronner’s | EP 21

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station description Critical Solutions for a Planet in Peril
Our Epic Ocean with Rich German
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Duration: 08:46
Listen to the story of Dr. Emanuel Bronner, Spaceship Earth's first Cosmic Engagement Officer, told by his grandson, David. Dr. Bronner's journey began in Germany, where he grew up in a family of soapmakers before emigrating to America to spread a message of cosmic peace and harmony.
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Listen to the story of Dr. Emanuel Bronner, Spaceship Earth's first Cosmic Engagement Officer, told by his grandson, David. Dr. Bronner's journey began in Germany, where he grew up in a family of soapmakers before emigrating to America to spread a message of cosmic peace and harmony. Today, his grandson David carries on his legacy as the head of one of the most successful and sustainable companies of the 21st century.
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1929 Dr Emanuel Bronner, a third generation german soap maker, emigrated to the United States 14 years before his parents were slaughtered in a Nazi death camp, arrested in Chicago while promoting his moral abc's. He was sent to a mental hospital from which he escaped after receiving electric shock treatment. He ultimately found himself preaching from a soapbox in Los Angeles, where people came in part to hear his radical sermons on universal consciousness and love, but mostly to get their bottles of soap wrapped in a broader, soon to be iconic label. In 1998 his grandson, David, cut from the same tie dyed cloth, took over as ceo cosmic engagement officer and along with his brother Michael and other family members grew the company exponentially from four million to over 129 million in annual sales and more importantly created one of the most respected regenerative brands on spaceship earth, dwelling on the front line of the eco friendly movement with massive respect for the soil, the people and the animals, all the while maintaining the all one principles his eccentric grandfather instilled in him. He is his grandfather's son, David Bronner. Welcome to the show man. How are you? I'm great. Thanks for having me so excited to have you here. I know you've got a lot going on, so I appreciate your time. So to me, the story of your company, what you stand for and the actions that you are taking is very encouraging. I believe it's a story of hope for humanity and also of tangible solutions to the critical issues that we face as a species. I want to drill down on the company philosophies but feel we should start with your grandfather's story. It's incredibly interesting, inspiring and without his boldness and genius, he would not have been given the gift of carrying the torch that he lit. Your grandfather seems like a fringe dwelling spiritual warrior, way ahead of his time. Can you take us on his journey from Germany to the U. S. And the creation of the company and specifically how he influenced you as both a man and a business owner. Yeah. So yeah so my grandfather, Emmanuel Bronner was born to a german jewish, so making family. Um He was born in 1908. His grandfather first started so manufacturer in 1858 in a small German town of La Pine in the basement of the of the house in the Jewish quarter. Um But I'm, my grandfather is coming of age. His dad and two uncles had expanded the family business quite a bit. Um They had a factory in Heilbronn also in Southern Germany. Um And in fact the family name was Heilbroner and so the family must have started in Heilbronn gondola pie and then moved back. Um And I think napoleon made all the jews like take whatever last names when he when he rolled through. But yeah so you know my grandad kind of coming up he um he was a pretty intense activist kind of guy who was very Zionist. Um He was clashing with his dad and uncles a lot. Him and his dad just didn't get along when you know I don't think my great grandfather appreciated my granddad's just kind of activism. You know it's just kind of not in the combining politics and so open and you know so my grandad decided to come to America to kind of set out on his own path. And it wasn't so much about at that time. Hitler and Nazism the eventual dimensions were not yet clear. Um It was more just kind of wanted to forge his own path in road in life. So he came over to the States and became a consultant for the U. S. Soap industry uh you know in the Chicago kind of Milwaukee area. And actually at the time I mean anti Semitism was starting to really heat up over here as well and I was like a hotbed of some of the anti Semitism going on, but with the rise of Hiller he became increasingly desperate to get his family out. his two sisters got out a lot, he got out of 36 and she ended up in a kibbutz in Israel, were they in Palestine? And then um And then Louisa got out right before they closed the borders in 38 and she she was a chemist and then became a professor of literature. Um University of boston, massachusetts, for University of massachusetts in boston. Uh, And um, and yeah, so my granddad, you know, or my great grandparents, like a lot of bourgeois Jews thought they were going to ride out the madness and state, it was too late. Um, the factory was organized in 1940 and they were deported and killed shortly after. Um, so, you know, my grandma was just going through immense, you know, and then the same timeframe, my mom's dad, my grandmother died, she was in and out of hospitals really sickly, and my grandma was just going to just immense personal tragedy, but somehow felt called urgently called that in the next holocaust in the nuclear on the world, if we don't realize they're transcendent unity across ethnic and religious divides, that we're gonna all perish in a nuclear world. The next holocaust, like we're all going to die if we don't realize this fundamental truth. So yeah so my grandad, you know, you know this is the post World War Two era and Mccarthyism and the red scare. You know, here's this guy who's thick german accent talking about United spaceship Earth and kind of got on the radar of the authorities and they tossed him in this insane asylum, literally insane. The sound you know, and you know for him he interpreted it is just like another concentration camp. And so he got out before too much damage was done, escaped west and and set up shop in uh in L. A. But you know it's going basically was you know going around the country lecturing on his peace plan and and realized people you know word got out that you know he was selling soaps on the side like his family soap recipes and um and in the post World War Two era like like soap and all these industries are moving to a petrochemical basis. So you know agriculture like fertilizer, we're going from natural fertility to synthetic nitrogen, petrochemical based fertility pesticides, plastics uh oh and personal care with all these like new petroleum based surfactants and cleansers and moisturizers. And so he's telling these natural biodegradable concentrated soaps on the side that were kind of out of fashion. But we're got out that well there's some really really good soap so people would comment more to get the soap than hear what you had to say. And for him it was the message first. And um so that's when he started downloading his message on the bottles. So if you are famous bottle has basically his religious philosophical peace plan. His vision is kind of one love vision of reality and quoting different spiritual giants across you know different traditions to show the essential unity and you know when religions are making idols out of their beliefs and demonizing each other that they are pointing at this transcendent source. And um, so yeah, for him, I mean it was he founded the company as a nonprofit religious organization. This, you know, it was really about unifying humanity and um the soaps were just basically a way of generating financial resources, the kind of help in that mission. Um, and with the rise of the counterculture in the sixties, that's when, you know, the soap just really resonated like all of a sudden he was a generation like they're, you know, dropping out of this war machine that won't stop. Um you know, this is Rachel Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, you know this book that really launched environmental movement about why are all the song bridge Dead because of the over application of pesticides and and our agricultural systems and just a general our industry is like a comet hitting the planet. So so the rise of the counterculture, that's when my granddad's so really like, you know, kind of connected, you know, here's this bottle so you can watch your dog dishes, hair by the side of the river and not worry about it. And it's got this groovy message of peace. So that's uh so yeah, really connected there and then went into the health food, you know, movement. You know, if you had three products in your health food store, one of them was gonna be dr Bronner's. Um And yeah, so at some point I. R. S disagreed with his uh designated tax exempt status. So we were in bankruptcy and reorganized as a for profit. Um but we we continue to kind of have that nonprofit D. N. A. At the heart of what we do. And definitely yeah
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