history of pears soap

Did you know that Pears’ Soap is the world’s oldest continuous brand? Founded in 1789, their almost transparent amber soap bars are still an iconic presence in many households 200 years later.

So iconic that, when Uniliver changed the 220+ year old formula, people started a Facebook campaign to bring back the original.

But what is it that makes Pears Soap so special and who invented it?

The Beginning Of Pear’s Soap

In 1789, Andrew Pears, a Cornish barber, opened a store in Soho, a wealthy area of London, and started making creams, powders and other beauty products.

Pretty soon, Pears noticed his socialite clientele used his products to cover the damage and dryness caused by arsenic-laden cosmetics they applied to achieve the fair, alabaster complexion that was so fashionable at the time.

Seeing a gap in the market, he decided to create something that would be gentler for the skin. After a lot of experiments, Pears Soap was born.

Made with glycerin and natural oils, the soap smelled like an English garden, and had a transparent appearance that set it apart from its competitors.

Pears was more interested in quality that quantity, so he sold his soap only to an exclusive customer base. His choice paid off. His business prospered so much, he moved his shop to Oxford. In 1851, he also won the prize medal for soap at the Great Exhibition in 1851.

pears soap advert

The Golden Era Of Pears’ Soap Advertising

When Andrew Pears retired, his grandson Francis took over and expanded the business to compete with the increasing numbers of rivals the brand now had.

In 1865, his son-in-law Thomas J Barratt, became a partner in the business. Considered “the father of modern advertisement”, he changed the distribution system and came up with the extensive advertising campaigns that have become iconic.

Barratt’s campaigns worked so well, the brand’s advertising posters are still very famous today. He appealed to people’s emotions before everyone else did, and used works of art, like Bubbles by John Everett Millais, as images for his posters. They were famous, and reinforced the brand’s clean and safe image in people’s minds.

He also came up with catchy slogans, like the famous “Good morning. Have you used Pears’ soap?”, and convinced physicians and pharmacists to provide testimonials. He also convinced the very famous actress Lillie Langtry to appear in its advertising campaign – and paid her handsomely  for it, of course.

Barratt also came up with novel publicity schemes. For instance, he imported 250,000 French coins and had the name Pears imprinted on them before putting them into circulation.

Another scheme involved giving new parents, who placed a birth notice in the newspapers, a bar of soap and an advertising leaflet.

Modern Times

In the mid 1910s, Pears’ soap became part of Lever Brothers and moved production in the north west of England.

From the early 20th century, Pears also organized a “Miss Pears” competition, in which parents entered their young daughters in the hope they would be became the new face of the brand.

Now, Pears Soap is made in India by Hindustan Unilever. What a fascinating story behind such a familiar bar of soap, don’t you think?

Do you use Pears Soap? Do you like the new formula or did you prefer the original one? Let me know in the comments below.