I’ve wondered how people in the Old West washed their hair. Did they make their own shampoo?

I’ve wondered how people in the Old West washed their hair. Did they make their own shampoo?

Dianne Sullivan
Springfield, Georgia

Most folks got by with a scentless bar of soap they made from lard and lye, and used for baths and laundry. As my grandmother used to say about washing with bar soap, “It left my hair feeling icky.”

Southwestern Native American women used yucca roots to wash their hair. The roots have a high component of saponin, which has detergent properties. Incidentally, the yucca palmilla is also known as the “soaptree.”

It wasn’t until the 1930s that the first successful retail shampoo was developed by John Breck, who presented the public with a shampoo line for dry and oily hair. Many Hollywood starlets posed for his ad as “Breck Girls.” In the 1970s, came the much gentler PH-balanced shampoos.

What do you think?

Marshall Trimble

Marshall Trimble is Arizona’s official historian, board president of the Arizona Historical Society and vice president of the Wild West History Association. His latest book is Arizona’s Outlaws and Lawmen; History Press, 2015. If you have a question, write: Ask the Marshall, P.O. Box 8008, Cave Creek, AZ 85327 or e-mail him at marshall.trimble@scottsdalecc.edu