Twain and Soap
"Whenever my missionaries overcame a knight errant on the road they washed him, and when he got well they swore him to go and get a bulletin-board and disseminate soap and civilization the rest of his days" (Twain 87).
Hank Morgan introduces soap to Arthurian England as a means of inducing social reform. Soap catches on, forcing his factory to increase from two employees to 15, working around the clock.
What does soap have to do with technology? It depends upon the definition of "technology." The most common view is that technology consists of products like cars, guns, or textiles. Such a definition would also include the means of production, such as machine tools, gauges, or looms. An expanded definition would include the system by which the production is managed, making the factory, the assembly line and the foreman important developments in technology.
Because Morgan produces soap in a factory, it might grudgingly be labelled a "low tech" product. However, Morgan's design is to use the soap as a tool for something else. First, he wants the soap and the concommitant advertisements to make the knights look silly. He calls the practice of having knights-errant "nonsense" (86) and wants it stopped. Second, he hopes to implement a practice of cleanliness among the nobility that will trickle down to the masses without being sanctioned by the Church. He hopes this will begin to undermine the way the Church controls every aspect of the people's lives.
Because he uses soap as a tool (almost a weapon!), it certainly qualifies as a form of technology, whether it's produced in a smelly factory near the palace or boiled in a vat in the back yard of a peasant family.
Twain's creative vision is historically accurate: people did not use soap for personal bathing in sixth century England.
Sumerian clay tablets dating c. 2500 B.C. are the first recorded mention of soap. It was made of water, alkali, and cassia oil, and was used to wash wool (Sappo Hill Soapworks). Records of ancient Egyptian, Greek, and Roman cultures indicate that soap was used for purposes such as washing clothes (a soap factory was found in the ruins of Pompeii, for example), but it was not part of bathing (Ellis).
After the fall of the Roman Empire, soapmaking, too, entered a Dark Age which lasted until about the 8th century in Europe. Use of soap was introduced to England around the 11th century by the Celts (Danielle Dane), who used it for bathing and washing (Ellis). However, soap was taxed heavily and was very expensive until 1853, when the tax on soap was repealed.
Soap was considered important before 1853, though. Evidence of this is found in the records of the American colonists, who brought soap with them and considered it a necessity (Ellis). Soon the colonists realized they had the necessary ingredients -- ashes and animal fat -- and began to make their own soap. In addition, soapboilers and chandlers (soap and candlemakers) began arriving in the early 1600s (Sappo Hill).
The Procter and Gamble company was established in 1837 and began marketing Ivory Soap in 1879 with the slogans "99 and 44/100% Pure" and "It Floats" (Procter and Gamble). As soap became cheaper and less harsh, attitudes and standards related to cleanliness changed. Regular bathing and cleaner clothing became social norms. Twain included this trend in Connecticut Yankee.
Hank Morgan believed that cleaner peasants would be more likely to think for themselves. No greater claim has ever been made for a bar of soap.