The story of Vaseline starts in the 1800s, when Robert Chesebrough, a British industrial chemist, was laboriously working to clarify kerosene from sperm whales.
|Yes, "junk" and "melon" are the technical terms.|
Luckily, petroleum rendered sperm whale oil obsolete in the 1840s, when James Young discovered a process to distill kerosene from the substance. Not only was this cheaper and less ethically distasteful than whale oil, petroleum rarely fights back when approached by humans attempting to collect it. Thus, Chesebrough needed a new job.
In 1859, the precursors to petroleum jelly were observed by oil rig workers, who found that the substance built up on the machinery, resulting in frequent mechanical malfunctions. Chesebrough traveled to the United States to visit this Pennsylvanian rig, hoping to find a commercial application for this nuisance. He found that the black "rod wax" could be distilled to form a light-colored gel.
|Random oil rig from the 1800s.|
Chesebrough opened a factory producing the product under the name Vaseline in 1870. The name is rumored to have come from a combination of the German word for water (wasser) and the Greek word for oil (έλαιον). Chesebrough patented the process of making petroleum jelly in 1872. His patent describes vacuum distillation and a bone char filtration process.
Disappointingly, Chesebrough couldn't find a buyer for his miracle product. Drugstore owners seemed unimpressed. Undeterred, Chesebrough took to the streets of New York, burning his skin using acid or open flames, spreading Vaseline on his unpleasant wounds, and demonstrating his past burns that were supposedly healed by the power of Vaseline. He then offered free samples of his product to onlookers.
Unfortunately, we now know that Vaseline has no effect on cuts or burns, so Chesebrough spent his time injuring himself for no real reason. However, the man was clearly a weirdo about Vaseline in other ways as well. He claimed to eat a spoonful of the stuff every day, and insisted on being coated in Vaseline from head to toe when suffering from a viral infection.
|She loved Vaseline.|
Chesebrough died a wealthy man in his New Jersey home in 1933 at the age of 96.
The Chesebrough Manufacturing Company, the company used to distribute Vaseline, remained highly profitable. They were listed on the New York Stock Exchange, and continued to be profitable even during the Great Depression.