A long and sudsy family trip continues at Bronner’s Soaps

David Bronner fought the law and he won.

Bronner, 31, is president of Dr. Bronners Magic Soaps. His grandfather, Dr. Emmanuel H. Bronner, combined a passion for down-home natural soapmaking with an equal fervor for “Spaceship Earth” and complex philosophical discourse, presented in microscopic lettering across his soap bottle labels.

The company with Dr. Bronners magic mantra of “All-One-God-Faith” cryptically calling from a sign outside its 25,000 square foot warehouse-manufacturing facility no doubt presents a riddle for unsuspecting motorists passing along on Citracado Parkway near Mission Road in Escondido.

Contrary to popular belief, the hippies of the 1960s bathed. When they did, Bronners Magic Soap with its organic cache and esoteric messages was the soap of choice.

  1. H. Bronner was a rebellious son of an Orthodox Jewish soap-making family who saw enough of the early Nazi Party to leave Germany in 1929 for a new life in America. While not actually a doctor, he insisted that advanced soap-making studies in Germany was the equivalent of a chemistry doctorate degree. Nobody argued.

While living in a Los Angeles transient hotel in the 1950s, Bronner started bottling his family recipe soaps. He moved to Escondido when urban renewal forced him to seek a new soap-making venue.

Bronner died at age 89 in 1997. James Bronner, his son, and Ralph Bronner, his brother who lived near Milwaukee, took over the company briefly. James Bronner died at age 59 in 1998.

David Bronner, along with brother Michael, assumed de facto leadership. This third Bronner generation has maintained every bit of the companys panache while growing the business to new heights. The company has become the leading organic soapmaker in America. It did $8 million in sales in 2001 and $11.3 million last year.

The line has expanded to included organic oils, lip balm, organic body wash and even food products such as Alpsnack, a certified organic hemp nuts, almonds and fruits snack that is dairy gluten and wheat-free.

Locally, the snacks are available at Jimbos and soon at most major natural food stores.

Alpsnack. Thats where “the man” tried to mess with Dr. E. H. Bronners magic “mojo.”

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency banned Alpsnack in October 2001, saying the product contained hemp nuts which contained THC like marijuana and, as such, was illegal.

Federal redcoats taking away the peoples right to munch Alpsnack caused Bronner and hemp product advocates to fire their North County version of the “Shot heard round the world”, that April 19, 1775 musket volley at Lexington, Mass. credited with starting the Revolutionary War and immortalized by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

The Hemp Industries Association, of which David Bronner is an enthusiastic member, challenged the DEAs ruling all the way to the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Just as with George Washington crossing the Delaware River to surprise the Hessians when all seemed lost, just as hemp product were about to be yanked off shelves in March 2002, the 9th Circuit suspended those DEA orders.

Justices ruled DEA lacked regulatory authority over foods derived from hemp and could not ban them.

Furthermore, justices said consumers couldnt get high from products with trace amounts of THC as found in hemp foods..

It was Cornwallis surrendering at Yorktown after that.

DEA officials did not appeal the court ruling and lost the right to appeal last September.

“It was 3-0 in the 9th Circuit,” Bronner said. “They just let it go. The best part was I even got the attorneys fees paid for by the government.”

Not bad, considering Bronner spent $200,000 to defend his right to sell Alpsnacks. The Bronner family tradition, in soap as in revolutionary philosophy, obviously continues strong.

By Dan Weisman

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