Model of a domestic soap factory, c 1935

© Technisches Museum Wien, Photo: Peter Sedlaczek
Collection Area
Production Technology
Chemical Production Engineering
1930 - 1939

‘Soap is a measure of the affluence and civilisation of states’ – that was the view expressed by German chemist Justus von Liebig in 1844 in his popular Chemische Briefe [Letters on Chemistry].

Soap is usually made from vegetable or animal fat. Soap works and candle-making were the handicraft forerunners of this particular industry. Both trades used bee’s wax as their raw material. In the 19th century demand for soap for industrial and private uses began to soar. New fats such as coconut and palm oil reached Europe from the colonies. Other source materials such as soda were manufactured in large quantities, and chemical research provided a new foundation for the process technology used for soap manufacture.

In 1936 the company Österreichische Georg Schicht A. G. arranged for two models of factories producing domestic and toilet soaps to be donated to the Technisches Museum Wien. Johann Schicht, the company founder, came from Ringelshain (Rynoltice) in Bohemia. His father, a farmer and butcher, had been granted a licence to operate a soap works. Johann Schicht had studied commerce and trade in Reichenberg (Liberec) and Vienna. In 1882/83 he commissioned the building of a soap factory in Aussig an der Elbe (Ústí nad Labem) on the border with Saxony. A large chemical company was already manufacturing part of the raw materials required, and the location on the river ensured that coconut oil and palm oil could be transported in a cost-effective way. ‘Schicht soap’ soon became a well-known brand, with Schicht’s factories also producing detergents and cooking oils. By 1906 his sons were employing no fewer than 1,900 people at several sites. The business continued to expand after the crisis of the First World War; in 1929 it merged with Dutch and English companies to become part of the Unilever group.

Manufacturer: Franz Wicke, Vienna

Date of origin: c 1935

Donated by: Georg Schicht A.G., Vienna

Inv.Nr. 13791

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