How My Invention Came to Be
Distant Origins
Early in the 20th Century, people commonly used Lux flakes to make suds on their bath water; see this story, this story, and this story. The inspiration for Lever Brothers to produce Lux toilet soap bars was learning that people were using the flakes for personal grooming. (And you probably thought, like I did, that they made the cakes before the flakes.) Still, early foaming bath products based on real soap were not very successful.  In 1936 a new formula based probably on sodium lauryl (dodecyl) sulfate was used for a bubble bath effect in the play The Women.  Within a few years this SLS (SDS) was being used in shampoos and Dreft detergent, and had caught on in commercial bubble baths.
        Beginning about 1960, probably with Matey (Anybody know if the product of Nelson Prewitt of Rochester NY, USA was related to the contemporary, and surviving, Matey in the UK, claiming a 1958 origin?), were the first mass marketed bubble baths designed for "family" (mostly children's) use.  They had little or no fragrance, were cheap, and usually in the form of boxed powders, although plastic bottled liquids were also competitors.  Their formulas were similar to those of laundry detergents -- chiefly sodium alkylbenzene sulfonates, with sodium polyphosphates to "soften" water, and alkanolamides to stabilize foam.  However, they were powdered more finely to dissolve faster in cooler water with less agitation, and were missing some ingredients which would be necessary only for machine laundering -- corrosion inhibitors and fabric brighteners.
        The fondness of children for the bubbles had been noted when bath foams, sold like bath salts as vehicles for ladies' perfume, were noted to be used as an inducement for children to bathe.  However, the new mass-market products were also pitched to parents as getting children's skin clean  while they merely soaked or played, without washing, and leaving no bathtub ring.  I believe the cleaning claims were overblown.  Similar dilutions of detergents are useful in cleaning hard surfaces such as dishes, but at the great dilution used in a bathtub I doubt they're much better at cleaning the porous surface of skin than water, especially without rubbing, and they're probably markedly inferior to soap as usually used.  The claim to prevent bathtub ring is, however, true; unlike soap, the products leave no bathtub ring by themselves, and they usually are able to disperse the lime soaps produced by soap in "hard" water; some of the powdered products may even have been enough to soften the bath water and prevent a ring that way.
        I was born in 1954, and my physician father fairly early recognized me as allergic-asthmatic.  One allergy I had was atopic dermatitis (as a delayed-type hypersensitivity) to certain plastics I played with.  My mother therefore took the precaution (based on advertising and reputation with little substance to it) of using only Ivory Soap and baby shampoo on me, and washing my clothes only with Ivory Flakes or Snow.
        About 1960 my father brought home (probably from Manny's Parkchester Oval drug store where he bought us toys) a bottle of Soaky bubble bath which he then administered to the bath water my younger sister and I were to use.  My sister got in immediately, and while I thought the bubbles attractive, I was mindful of my history of skin allergy, and had my father call manufacturer Colgate-Palmolive to get their assurance.  He reached somebody who explained that the product was not prone to cause allergies, and I then got in, although the bubbles were almost gone by then.  I'm sure Colgate was correct, because the main problem with such products is not atopic (allergic) dermatitis, but simple irritant dermatitis in some individuals.  I had no problem with it.  I'd've liked to have bubble baths more often as a child and I wish I hadn't been so chicken.
The Provocation
In 1984 the Chicago-based Nomos magazine, now defunct, held a "Living Free in 1984" essay contest.  I submitted an essay about a history test a friend had given his students.  Then I listened to Joan Hamburg's How To Cope program on WOR regarding problems with cosmetics.  The subject of bubble baths came up. 
       Starting in the 1950s and accelerating in the 1960s there had come reports of urinary and genital irritation from foam baths.  Some products left the market, others were reformulated, and there was a certain amount of outcry, although it seems likely that bubble baths, being frivolous and less-used products, were getting the blame for a problem that probably existed in equal or greater degree with ordinary soap.
        So a urologist phoned in to the program wishing that bubble baths be banned.  In a fit of pique, I wrote a letter to Ms. Hamburg in rebuttal.  I also saved a copy, and modifying it only slightly, submitted it as another entry in the essay contest.  It won 3rd prize (close to 2nd), while the other essay I'd worked over very carefully came in only 6th.
        I completed my Ph.D. in biochemistry in 1988.  While I'd rather do higher-falutin' science as a career, as a grown up kid I like tinkering with simple chemicals that have gross physical effects -- bubbles, fireworks.  A few years earlier I'd sent my sister a foaming bath gel made from cocamidopropyl betaine and sodium lauryl ether sulfate -- a harbinger of things to come.
        As 1988 began, Nomos changed hands, and Carol Low took over editorship.  I wrote to her of an idea I wished the magazine would try -- a follow-up column.  I wrote of the changes, for instance, that'd taken place regarding regulation of "foaming detergent bath products" since I'd written that prize-winning piece, and later I phoned her.  It turned out that her oldest child, 8 year old Gwen, had exactly that problem.  Carol home schooled the children and worked at home, and often used the bathtub to keep them occupied.  She was able to station herself where she could look up and see them there.    Not that the children liked washing that much, but they loved the water.  They would often bathe for hours at a time, so between that and their swimming at the YMCA, I wondered why they bothered to dry off.
        Although I was told they weren't big on using soap, the children enjoyed soapsuds.  They liked to use large amounts of bubble bath, but since Gwen had experienced vulvitis or vulvovaginitis from such exposures, they had to limit their use of such products to an amount that didn't make enough foam for what they liked, especially not to last throughout those long baths.  Shortly before I spoke to Carol, the children had also tried playing with shaving cream in the bathtub, and after Gwen sat in a mass of it, she quickly got up with sore genitals.
        Carol's youngest child, 3 year old Corinne, also had a dysuria problem after drinking the large amounts of apple juice she liked.  The problem might have been with apple tannins or a product of a fungus that grows on apples.  So she had an apple juice ration and they all had a bubble bath ration.
The Invention
I set to work on both problems.  I was unable to get far with Corinne's.  My idea was to get the recipe for the phony "apple juice" Beech Nut had been caught using instead of the real thing, but they wouldn't divulge it.  She just had to outgrow it, or her fondness for the simple taste of apple juice.
        Gwen's problem I solved spectacularly, as you know.  Basically, I hit it lucky.  I was trying only to make a very gentle formula I thought she'd be able to tolerate, and the high density of the foam was a bonus.  The photos you see were the Lows' first bath with it, which was after their father had brought them home dirty after a trip to the Grand Canyon.  (When you get only brief visitation times, simple maintenance chores like bathing suffer relative to the fun stuff.)  Corinne had been bothered by eye sting from the foams of other bubble baths, too, even those whose ingredients theoretically had lower eye irritancy than the ones I used; the wet foam my mixture made didn't sting her or 5 year old Brandon's eyes.
        When I'd sent her the bath gel years earlier, my sister suggested I go into the business, and I explained to her that I didn't want the investment or the liability.  Similarly with what I sent the Lows.  It was just a toss-off whose recipe I thought I might publish and release to the public domain.  I did stunts like splashing it in kiddy pools that summer at friends' parties for children to enjoy.  One set of those friends, Ralph Fucetola and Kathy Greene, seeing how good the stuff was, suggested I try to sell the formula instead of going into the business, so I started working on selling it, first as a trade secret, and then as a patent.
        To improve its record, and get some publishable science done, I sought out other individuals with a history of reproducible urinary or genital irritation from soap or things soapy -- not just bath foams -- to test on.  Most had problems more severe than Gwen's; after all, she'd been able to tolerate some amount of bubble bath for a while.  I found some subjects who couldn't tolerate the original formula, which I modified and re-tested, and have had a perfect record ever since in not causing urogenital irritation.  The questions I had to ask people to find good subjects didn't exactly make for nice party conversation, but I persevered!
        I also did considerable esthetic testing in the first couple of years, to show that people, especially children, tended to prefer denser foams.  The product I most often tested against in blind comparisons was the Bisset-Mao formula Ivory Dishwashing Liquid of the late 1980s.  Consumer's Union also tested it as hair shampoo, and that formula, later discontinued, may have been the 2nd best bubble bath in the world!
        I got an early nibble of interest from Beecham, which tried the early version of my formula as one of 14 in human repeat-insult skin patch testing.  Mine came out a close 2nd for lowest skin irritancy for a bath product they were developing, but they decided to pursue only #1.  I don't know whether that project got anywhere.
        Getting the patent was no easy matter.  I took a 1-night adult education course in invention patenting & promotion, and prosecuted my patent at first pro se.  Rejected, I got a lawyer's help for a continuation.  He got sick and I was forced to continue again myself.  The examiner wanted objective findings, so I had a lab under my supervision actually weigh the foam to determine its density.  A lab tech came up with the idea to drill holes in he bottoms of the vials I was trying to pack he foam in, to allow it to pack without an air pocket.  Then the examiners lost my patent application file, so after a petition to revive and an examiner's amendment, I got it to issue with pretty good protection of a range of compositions.
        Other formulators of bath foams have concentrated mostly on foam height and volume, and foam persistence while undisturbed.  In such tests, my formula would not fare so well.  My invention stands out in foam density and the ability to resist breakage when played with.  I relied on lauryl sulfosuccinate as the main ingredient, while the makers of sulfosuccinate surfactants tended to push other sulfosuccinates (with linking groups between the lauryl or other alkyl moiety and the sulfosuccinate) for their theoretically greater mildness, foam height, and chemical stability.  I'm satisfied that when blended in liquids with betaine surfactants, lauryl sulfosuccinate is adequately stable.
Finding An Outlet
I shopped my invention around for years, starting with the biggest makers of soaps & toiletries, and working down to progressively smaller ones.  Eventually I was dealing with people just beyond, or even still at, the hobby stage.  It was thru online forums such as CompuServe's crafts forum, Usenet groups, and Internet e-mail that I discovered the community of such people.  These are typically ladies who made some soap at home as a hobby, and then started (or have contemplated starting) to sell their products.
        These people are used to making co-op buys of certain ingredients such as essential oils which are unavailable or prohibitively expensive in smaller quantities.  (I'd participated and done some work in a co-op buy of potassium perchlorate for the Long Island Pyrotechnics Ass'n, later defunct.)  When several of them on one e-mail list piped up with their interest in making bubble bath, I suggested a co-op to make my recipe as a foaming base.  I organized the co-op, and we got 30 gallons made up by Stenu Robinson at cost in the Bronx, which is where I live.  It was my hope that some of the product made and sold by some of the co-op participants (who mixed the foaming base with their own fancy ingredients and bottled it) would lead to a licensure arrangement for future business.
        I came close with one of the participants, who quickly sold out her product.  However, she first ran into technical difficulties (returns -- some of the essential oils she'd used reacted with the foaming ingredients during storage).  Then she ran into a bit of an "office political" problem with her biggest wholesale customer, which precluded the project.
        In early 1998 it looked like the flap over diethanolamine (DEA), which my mixtures didn't have, might boost me, so I maintained the patent.  However, I turned down an endorsement deal from Samuel Epstein, MD.
        I kept searching the nets for interest.  I hit on a Usenet discussion of the Jon-Benet Ramsey case, wherein a reported case of the child's vaginitis might have been due to abuse or to bubble bath.  I replied, and thereby got in touch with an interesting lady in Philadelphia whose child had Angelman syndrome, a developmental disorder which I'd never heard of.  Typical of Angelman's, the child loved water play; she also loved suds, but had at least one episode of vaginitis to which certain bubble baths were suspected to have contributed.  The kid tolerated -- and loved -- my mixture (so did her teen brother, who doesn't want the world to know -- but they're anonymous here), and we started corresponding about marketing opportunities.  Her salesman husband was about to leave a job and was looking for a business as an investment, hoping to endow their child for life.  He founded Harry Stendhal Industries and licensed my patent. He made a batch as is, without dilution or adding anything (color, perfume, preservative, etc.) and named it Dr. Bob's Unique Bubble Bath. Dr. Bob's was a fairly obvious name other friends had suggested earlier, and soapmaker Bob McDaniel gave his blessing to use of the name. The label featured an arty drawing of a woman supervising a girl's bath. After a year, failing to get Dr. Bob's into major chain drug or toy stores as he'd attempted, Harry Stendhal dropped the exclusive license and its proprietor got another job.
        My patent is once again available for license for toiletry use, although I began retailing it as MarshWallow Painless Lather Bath as 2003 began.  For foam dancing (foam fests/parties) that's done in nightclubs and outdoors I licensed it to Bleeding Edge Music, who'd hoped to revitalize his flagging business beginning in the spring of 2003.  However, he quickly disappeared having sold very little.