Bar Soap in Kentucky in the 1940s-1950s

Both my maternal and paternal grandparents lived a short walk from where I was born and was reared. My maternal grandparents owned property adjoining the school grounds which was an easy after-school walk for a play visit. They never owned or ever drove a car. My maternal grandfather (known as Papa) was active in the Odd Fellows and worked for the Southern Railroad in the "shops" in Ferguson. Papa always carried a lunch box with him to work and would frequently leave some uneaten treat to give to me when he returned home from work.

Walter Lee and Nora Judd
Grandma and Papa Judd

His job was strenuous manual labor as he was responsible for maintaining and repairing virtually anything that was associated with the running of trains - engines, railroad cars, etc. - everything but the tracks. His hands were almost black from the oil/grease/coal from the train engines and he could scarcely touch anything without severely soiling it.


As a result of this type of work, when he arrived home from his job, his first activity would be to take a bath immediately in their claw-footed bathtub.

Claw Foot Tub

In addition to the ancient tub, he always used two different types of soap: Lava and Lifebuoy. The Lava soap contained pumice and was almost guaranteed to remove any grime (and, perhaps, skin as well.)

Lifebuoy became popular with commercials which praised the virtue of its odor preventing elements and was largely responsible for coining the abbreviation of B.O. (for Body Odor.) They used an ominous sounding fog horn, followed by a "Sonovox" which was placed against the throat while the person would mouth the words, "B.O." This created a very frightening sound - almost as frightening as the dreaded B.O.

Lifebuoy Radio Commercial

Lifebuoy soap was much more gentle and smelled better.

It was so popular that even Martha Stewart appeared in a commercial.

Despite the obvious cleansing power of Lava and the romantic properties of Lifebuoy, my favorite soap was Ivory. IT FLOATED! As a grade-school boy, this seemed to be a great improvement when bathing at my grandparent's house. If the soap slipped out of my hands, I could easily find it happily floating on top of the water in the claw-footed tub.

Little things mean a lot!

I remember my neighbor (almost directly across the street from my home) making her own soap by stirring a cauldron of ingredients in her side yard. She made her own wood ash lye, rendered the fats from slaughtered hogs, and mixed the fats with the lye. It was a very laborious process and the unpleasant odors created from rendering fats in the cauldron could be smelled throughout our neighborhood.


So many things have happened in recent years to change lives. My paternal grandmother was 29 years old before American women were ALLOWED TO VOTE! Also, until recently body odor was never discussed in polite company. As a kid, I only remember one deodorant - Mum. I even remember the joke, "Mum's the word. Keep it under your arms." Now we have TV commericals which identify various parts of the body where unpleasant odors occur - check out Lume deoderant for the latest in "pits and private parts."


Learn How Advertisers Convinced Americans They Smelled Bad CLICK HERE

NOTE: Television did not come to our town until the 50s.

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