Patented in 1872, Vaseline®—the trade name for soft paraffin, petroleum jelly, and petrolatum—was invented by the British-born chemist Robert Chesebrough (1837-1933). A semi-solid mixture of hydrocarbons, Vaseline was initially derived from the rod wax that came from the drilling of petroleum. Chesebrough created it by vacuum distillation of the crude rod wax, then filtered the residue from the still through bone char. The name is thought to come from the German for water (pronounced "vasser") and the Greek for oil (elaion).
The first Vaseline® factory opened in 1870 in Brooklyn, New York, and in 1911 the company built its first operation plants in Europe. Initially Chesebrough traveled around the United States selling his product by demonstrating its medicinal properties. He did this by burning his skin either with acid or with a naked flame, then rubbing the Vaseline over the wounds, and showing the healed areas of previous burns. It was primarily promoted as a treatment for grazes, burns, and cuts, but Vaseline® has no confirmed medicinal effects. Yet, it does help speed the healing process by sealing the wound from infection and moisture.
In the early twentieth century, it was mixed with additives such as beeswax, to make effective mustache waxes. Now used in many skin lotions and cosmetics, Vaseline® is a popular handbag essential, with uses ranging from lip balm to blister prevention.
Chesebrough lived to the age of ninety-six and claimed to have eaten a spoonful of Vaseline® a day. It is also said that when he was suffering from pleurisy he covered his body entirely in Vaseline®—and quickly recovered.