Man Who Made Washing Our Hands Easier Dead at 77

Give your soap pump a push for Robert Taylor, who died Aug. 29
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 12, 2013 9:50 AM CDT
Man Who Made Washing Our Hands Easier Dead at 77
Robert Taylor, the man behind Softsoap's pumping soap, has died at 77.   (Shutterstock)

The man who took a huge gamble to bring you hand soap via pump has died at 77. Robert Taylor wanted to clean up the mess bar soap left in the soap dish, and so his company, Minnetonka, introduced Softsoap in a pump-topped plastic bottle in 1978. But in order to stave off competitors who he expected to quickly reproduce his creation, Taylor took a big risk: He ordered 100 million hand pumps—to the tune of $12 million—and kicked off a $7 million ad campaign. His order was enough to overwhelm production facilities for more than a year, delaying the likes of Procter & Gamble and sealing his own success, the New York Times reports. The Los Angeles Times puts a price tag on that success: He sold Softsoap to Colgate-Palmolive for $61 million nine years later; Unilever snatched up the rest of Minnetonka for $376 million two years after that.

He founded and later sold a total of 14 consumer products businesses, and grabbed Calvin Klein's floundering cosmetics line in 1980. He notably brought the fragrance Obsession to the public via mini-movie ads that made waves; an NYT columnist at the time said they were "nearly as steamy as R-rated movies." The LAT speaks to daughter Lori Lawrence, who recounts childhood evenings with her father spent concocting "Soap Puffs," balls of soap they cooked in their kitchen's oven. She shares this sweet remembrance: After her evening bath he'd say, "Tomorrow's a new day. There's always a new formula." Taylor died of cancer on Aug. 29. (More soap stories.)

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