Anthony Van Haagen was born in Germany and immigrated to the U.S. in 1855 at about age 29. He quickly established himself as a manufacturer of soap. He was also an inventor. In 1870, he and William Adamson were granted patents for “soap product from glue residuum” and “fertilizer from glue residuum.” In 1872, he and Claus Van Haagen patented an improvement in drilling machines.
In 1880, he and his wife Edmonia (who was born in Virginia) lived with their four children at 3408 Spring Garden St.
In 1882, Van Haagen received a patent for a new design for a cake of soap which had several advantages over the typical spherical shape. He produced a flattened cake that would “not roll away from the spot where it is placed” and which provided “the extended surface so desirable in a cake of soap used for hand washing.” By introducing grooves around the edges, he produced a cake that afforded “the means of retaining the soap in one hand and preventing it from turning while it is being applied to the other hand.”
Although Van Haagen didn’t build railroads or machine tools, he was a man of his age who was focused on the technological advancement that defined Victorian Philadelphia.