A Cake of Sapolio

When the ladies of the 10th Street Church set out to clean the sanctuary in Ester Ried’s Namesake, they armed themselves with pails, brooms, dust-cloths and … Sapolio.

Sapolio 02

Sapolio was the brand name of a bar soap manufactured by Enoch Morgan’s Sons Company. There was Hand Sapolio for everyday use in the toilet and bath.

Sapolio 1909

And there was the large Sapolio cake for household cleaning purposes, which was the company’s most popular product.

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Isabella mentioned the product more than once in her descriptions of the busy ladies’ efforts to clean the room in which they worshipped.

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The ladies used Sapolio to scrub the floors and polish the globes on the gas lamps.

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Ads for Sapolio claimed their product could do much more:

It will clean paint, marble, oil cloths, bath tubs, crockery, kitchen utensils, windows, etc.

It will polish tin, brass, copper and steel wares of all kinds.

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Sapolio was “probably the best advertised product” in the country, according to Time Magazine. Sapolio ads appeared in magazines, newspapers, and trade cards.

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Their ads were inventive, entertaining, and often elaborate.

Click this link to see one of their full-page newspapers ads from 1889 in the Omaha Daily Bee.

Sapolio from San Antonio Daily Express 1890 02-21

Their advertising campaigns appealed to homemakers and housekeepers, ladies of leisure and scullery maids.

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The advertising paid off. From the 1890s to 1920s, Sapolio was the best-selling cleaning product in America.

Sapolio 10 1909

And then Sapolio executives made a fatal mistake. They believed their product was so well ensconced in the minds of the buying public, they stopped advertising.

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In the short-term they might have saved money, but in the long-term the decision proved disastrous. Sapolio soon disappeared from store shelves and customer’s homes. Buyers turned to the competition, and Sapolio sales never recovered. The company that made Sapolio was almost destroyed; eventually they sold what was left of the business to a South American company.

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Today Sapolio products are still sold in South America (especially Peru and Chile) and they get rave reviews; but Sapolio will never again enjoy the popularity it once had when Isabella Alden wrote about in the pages of Ester Ried’s Namesake.

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