The Many Careers of Soapmakers

Alexander Majors Pony Express Founder (1860) Soapmaker (1887)

Of all the soapmakers I know, not one started out young in life saying,”When I grow up, I’m going to be a soapmaker.” While some have said they “always had an interest”, most were in other careers when they discovered (and got hooked on) soapmaking. Pre-soapmaking careers include accountant, journalist, engineer, chemist, housewife, teacher, internet guru, IT professional, computer programmer, farmers, goat-herd owners – and even founder of the Pony Express.

The famed Pony Express was founded by William H. Russell, William B. Waddell and Alexander Majors. Majors was the field man, responsible for setting up the stations and lines. The service opened officially on April 3, 1860 when riders left St. Joseph, Missouri and Sacramento, California simultaneously. The westbound trip, was made in 9 days and 23 hours, with riders covering about 250 miles in a 24-hour day.

One of the people hired as a messenger was 9-year-old William Frederick “Buffalo Bill” Cody. According to newspaper reports, Majors taught Cody to read and write and they remained life-long friends.

During the heyday of the Pony Express, Majors was a very wealthy man. But the Pony Express lasted only 18 months and shortly after it closed, Majors’ business ventures went bust and he started on a long line of other (less successful) enterprises.

In 1867, he moved his family to Salt Lake City where he was engaged in grading roadbeds and furnishing ties and telegraph poles to the Union Pacific Railway. When the transcontinental railway was completed, Majors was present at the ceremonial driving of the Gold Spike on May 20, 1869.

He spent some time prospecting in Utah, and in then in 1880 was a “mining broker” in Helena, Montana.

But then, in 1887, just as he was turning 73 years old, he was in Omaha … making soap!

Later he moved to Denver, broke and alone, writing the story of his life on the frontier. “Buffalo Bill” Cody found him there and paid all Majors’ expenses while he finished his book. A year or so later, Majors’ manuscript was edited and published as Seventy Years on the Frontier
which has been reprinted numerous times and is still available at amazon.com.

It’s a tribute to the fascination of soapmaking and its inherent potential profit that even over 100 years ago it attracted the interest of a man who met with Presidents, braved the American Frontier, taught an American icon to read and write and created an indelible part of American history.

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