Quick History

Soap Bubble 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.

Now, here's a challenge for YOU. Make bubbles like it is pre-WW2. Take a pea sized chunk of bar-soap, dissolve it in a small cup of water and try to make bubbles with it. You'll soon discover, relative to modern bubble toy bubble solutions, how VERY DIFFICULT it was to make bubbles back in the day.

Examples of Soapless bubble play? 1. In the last hundred years or so of 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 leaves and flowers until a sticky juice emerges which can be used for blowing bubbles.

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

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Bubble fun c1899

Library of Congress photo by the Taber Prang Art Co.

Newspaper Clip, only 18 years later.

The Citizen., August 23, 1917