Inducted 2014

Although soap itself goes back to ancient times, Europeans manufactured high quality varieties by the 16th century. The earliest paintings of children playing with bubbles appeared in the 17th century and, in the 19th century, London’s A. & F. Pears created a famous advertising campaign for its soaps using a painting by John Everett Millais of a child playing with bubbles.

Soap bubbles seem simple, but they illustrate the mathematical problem of minimal surface, assuming the shape with the least possible surface area to contain a given volume. A bubble is a closed soap film; due to the difference in outside and inside pressure, a bubble’s surface has a constant mean curvature. Bubbles demonstrate concepts such as flexibility, color formation, reflective or mirrored surfaces, concave and convex surfaces, transparency, various shapes, elastic properties, and comparative sizing, all of which make them useful in problem-solving applications.

Best used outdoors, bubbles are marketed today for ages three and up. New soap mixtures are completely non-toxic, even one with a patented formula that glows under ultraviolet light. Although manufacturers claim their recipes produce the best bubbles, an entire soap bubble wiki offers homemade examples composed of dish soap, water, and other simple additives. Nevertheless, retailers sell about 200 million bottles of bubbles annually.

Today bubble machines rapidly blow multiple bubbles, bubble guns shoot harmless bubbles at soapy opponents, and bubble rockets leave iridescent bubble trails in their wakes. Bubbles also come in miniature party favor bottles, used for children’s birthdays and adult weddings alike. Tourists can find bubbles in souvenir-shaped bottles at attractions worldwide.

It is difficult to think of a plaything more ubiquitous than bubbles. They float with a magical iridescent gleam, and then they disappear in an instant. Inexpensive, safe, and clean—what more can we ask of any toy?