Interesting Bits of History

Play starts with the invention of soap.

While bubbles and references to them have been around for millennia, soap as we know it (the kind that will make bubbles) doesn’t appear until the mid 1400s. For the next 100 years only the VERY wealthy had it. Portraits of children painted around this time start to feature kids making bubbles.

In the 1600 & 1700s, thanks to better chemistry and refined manufacturing processes, soap goes big time in Europe and its use slowly spreads to a global scale. Mostly for washing dishes and clothes. Now that more people can afford soap, bubble making starts to get interesting.

Bubble play gets better as soap improves.

Try this. Make bubbles like it is pre-WW2. Take a pea sized chunk of bar-soap, dissolve it in a small cup of warm water and try to make bubbles with it. You'll soon discover, compared to modern bubble toy bubble solutions, it was VERY DIFFICULT to make bubbles back in the day. No wonder each was celebrated and observed. Back then, popping bubbles wasn't the point.

Bubble play without soap?

Yes (technically). During the Edo period of Japan (1600s-1868), Tamaya (bubble toy vendors) sold bubble tubes (reeds or hollow bamboo) and bubble liquid during festivals... their liquid was made with soap nuts (Sapindus Fruit).

Even today some children in the Philippines crush hibiscus (called Gumamela) leaves and flowers until a sticky juice emerges which can be used for blowing bubbles. Here's a link for more:

Have you tried making Bubble Solution the old fashioned way -- dissolving bar soap into warm water and adding a little glycerin?

Newspaper articles shared this advice: The solution is soapy enough when you can make a bubble and jab your soapy/wet finger into it without the bubble popping.

I try this often and always end up with a syrupy, thick, milky/pearlescent soup. It works to make smallish bubbles (anything over 5 or 6 inches - detached and free floating is worth shouting to people across the room about) for a little while & is best when warm. The next day, too thick, so I add water to thin it out but it never gets back to bubble making consistency.

I enjoy this challenge because it reminds me of how difficult bubble making at home used to be. Proof of this, not until the 1960s or 1970s have I found consistent reports of kids who loved to pop bubbles... they were just too difficult to make in the first place.

It is good experience to keep in mind when I'm trying 100 year old tricks or playing with pre detergent era bubble toys. It certainly makes me appreciate the vaudeville era bubblers so much more.

Anyway, this photograph from 1946 shows what the liquid is like.

Will you take the challenge?

Try making the old stuff with a bar of soap.

I hope when you do you will discover something about the process makes the liquid work better and longer than I've been able to do.

Then, I hope you'll tell me what I've been doing wrong.

Anyone else up for the challenge?

Who first popularized modern soap bubble solutions?

I've discovered what I believe to be the first commercially available bubble solution. 1866 Rainbow Bubbles developed, manufactured and distributed by experimental chemist Alfred Bird in the UK. Bird also invented baking powder.

Others opinions with biased perspectives:

(From 2002, BUBBLEHEADS OF SUMMER - Los Angeles Times) Presidents from the 2 biggest bubble toy companies at the time disagreed. Strombecker's Dan Shure with Mr. Bubbles V Imperial's David Kort with Miracle bubble brand.

A. "According to Shure, it was in the 1920s, when a Chicago pharmacist named Sid Belmont packaged soap solutions in glass bottles and started selling them to children. He founded a chemical company that in 1979 was acquired by Strombecker Corp./Tootsietoy Products."

B. "But the history is recounted differently by Imperial's founder and president Fred Kort, David's father. As he tells it, a Charlotte, N.C., man named Joe Scott (brother to actor Randolph Scott) founded a bubble manufacturing company in 1946, bringing bubbles to the masses. Kort's first bubble job was at the California branch of Scott's company."

About A: Sid Belmont did indeed own BELMONT LABORATORIES back then. A subsidiary company (same owners and officers) was Chemical Sundries. By 1951 Chemical Sundries had registered the trademark WONDER for liquid bubble blowing compositions. First use in Commerce was listed as 1945. Chemical Sundries becomes Chemtoy in 1966. Chemtoy is sold to Strombecker in 1979.

About B: Joe Scott was a salesman. He didn't invent the solution but he Did promote a very early formula.... See the following newspaper clip from Syracuse Herald American Jan 6 1946.

A Timeline of Bubble Stuff

1480s - Centuries before bubble fun appears as words in books, the Visual Arts offer evidence of how people made & played with bubbles. Fine art, Sculpture, Vanitas. That 1480 monkey illustration above is the earliest hint of bubble play I have found.

/ / 1503 - Leonardo da Vinci paints the Mona Lisa. / / 1633 - Inquisition forces Galileo (astronomer) to recant his belief in Copernican theory.

1660s - Scientists begin to take bubbles and soap films seriously. First Robert Hooke (Micrographia, 1664) and then Isaac Newton (Discourse On Light and Colours, 1675 & Opticks, 1704) use soap films to investigate and explain the colors of thin films.

1782 - Tiberius Cavallo is first to elevate something with hydrogen: Soap Bubbles.

1786 - Thomas Percival first to write about fun bubble tricks.

1830s+ - Plateau studies soap films in geometric wire frames. 1873 published Statique Expérimentale et Théorique des Liquides soumis aux Seules Forces Moléculaires. His Soap / Water / Glycerine formula stets standard for next 100 years.

1850s - Eugene Vivier makes bubble mischief in Europe and beyond.

/ / Apr 12, 1861 – May 9, 1865 - American Civil War

1865 - Alfred Bird (UK) manufactures and markets first bubble toy liquid.

1873 - First US Patent for bubble toy.

1880 - Soap bubble parties (for kids and adults) were all the rage in London and affluent parts of America. Newspaper and periodical articles offer new bubble games and tricks.

1889 - C. V. Boys gives Royal Institution Christmas lectures on "Soap Bubbles and What May Be Shown With Them"

1890 - R. Thain Patents The Wizard

1900 - C Schindler Patents The Bubbler

Circa 1910: Amazing Vaudeville bubble acts astonished audiences as they toured the most popular theatre circuits, & earned $1,000 - $1,500 a week.

1930s & 40s detergents improve bubble solutions and plastics make it possible for every kid to have a bubble maker in their pocket.

1945 Bubbles are first US fad after WW2