Editor’s note: This is a reprint of a story that originally appeared in the Hannibal Courier-Post in 1938 in honor of the newspaper’s 100th anniversary.
Of the thousands of bars of soap sold in Hannibal stores each year, probably not one is made in Hannibal.
But, until 33 years ago a large, or even major, part of the local soap supply came from Hannibal factories.
The best known of these was the Schnitzlein soap and candle factory, located during the latter period of its existence on the Oakwood road, now West Market street, two blocks west of the Minnow creek bridge.
The business was founded by J. L. Schnitzlein a native of Germany who came to Hannibal in 1851 and entered the employ of a soap factory located in “Soap Hollow”, west of the north river road near the present site of the pumping station of the municipal water system.
After a few years in this factory, Schnitzlein went into business for himself with a plant located near Lemon and Munger streets and soon developed a thriving trade in soap and candles.
He purchased the Oakwood road property in 1868 and began the manufacture of soap and candles in a 2-story brick building which stood until about 15 years ago, when it was demolished and sold for building material.
Aided By Son
J. L. Schnitzlein was joined by his son, G. W. Schnitzlein, in the operation of the factory. The elder Schnitzlein died in 1893 and his son carried on the business until his death in 1905.
During the last seven years at the business most of the activity was devoted to the manufacture of soap, as candles had been replaced by kerosene lamps, illuminating gas and electricity.
Animal fats and tallow used in the production of soap and candles were rendered in a separate building located in a ravine known as Prentice Hollow about three blocks west of the factory and north of the Oakwood road. (Market Street)
Although the business employed outside workmen, much of the work was done by the elder Schnitzlein and his son and at particularly busy times the entire family assisted.
Miss Anna Schnitzlein, 2521 Market street, a daughter of J. L. Schnitzlein, recalled recently that she often assisted her father and older brother in wrapping soap when she was a child. Miss Schnitzlein, a well known former commercial photographer and photofinisher now lives in the old Schnitzlein home.
Meat markets of those days mostly did their own butchering and the excess meat and tallow was sold to the soap factory.
This was rendered in boilers of the Prentice Hollow building and taken to the main plant were the Schnitzleins mixed the proper ingredients with the liquid fats.
After the solution was thoroughly stirred and boiled it was poured into cooling frames and turned out in large blocks.
These were marked in equal sections and when sufficiently dry the soap was cut into bars. This was done by steel wire resembling piano wire.
Cut By Wire
A length of wire had a hand grip on each end and the cutters would place the wire across the block of soap and bear down steadily to slice through the material with ease.
After the soap was cut into bars it was dried again until ready for wrapping.
Although laundry soap formed the bulk of the factory’s output, the Schnitzleins also manufactured toilet soaps for the local market.
One brand of laundry soap was known as “White Italian.”
The last operation before the wrapping stage was molding and this was done by a foot-operated machine which stamped the name on each bar, trimmed uneven edges and added a decorative border when desired.
Some of the factory’s output was sold in unstamped lots to St. Louis wholesale firms and probably a portion of it came back to Hannibal stores bearing the names of the individual firms.