Origins of ordinary things: Petroleum jelly

Having a face so glistering that it is almost reflective is a rite of passage during childhood. This sort of shine that also causes the skin to feel slippery and soft exists thanks to petroleum jelly.

According to the article “The Amazing History of Vaseline” by Daniel Ganninger, an author and researcher, the process of inventing petroleum jelly began in 1859. It began with Robert Chesebrough, a 22-year-old American chemist losing his job of extracting kerosene from the oil of sperm whales. His job is said to have become obsolete after the discovery of oil in Titusville, Pennsylvania in the United States.

Chesebrough then travelled to Titusville to find out what kind of products could be made from the newly discovered oil. He is then said to have noticed that oil workers were using a substance from oil called rod wax to heal their cuts and burns. This is what gave him the idea to collect the substance, refine it, and distill it in order to produce a gel.

After spending over 10 years perfecting the production of petroleum jelly, Chesebrough travelled around New York City in the United States marketing it. The article “The Vaseline Story” on the Vaseline website indicates that Chesebrough would burn his skin and then spread jelly on the injury to demonstrate the healing power of his product. He called it the Wonder Jelly.This was in 1870.

In the article “The Story of Vaseline”Jason Bellows, a researcher says that Wonder Jelly was first regarded as medicine.

In 1872, according to Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, Chesebrough received patent rights for petroleum jelly. He called it Vaseline, deriving the name from combining the German word “Wasser” which means “water” and the Greek word “elaion” which means “olive oil.”

In the early 1900s, Vaseline expanded to a global scale, opening factories in Europe, Canada, and Africa. According to the Vaseline website, the product was used by soldiers during World War I and World War II to treat minor cuts and bruises.

Vaseline has over the years been said to be useful in many ways. Cosmopolitan, a United Kingdom-based magazine wrote an article “19 things you never knew you could do with Vaseline.” Some of those uses include; preventing razor blades from rusting, removing chewing gum from hair, preventing cuticles from cracking, preventing elbows from looking scaly, taming eyebrows and others.

Chesebrough believed in the power of Vaseline so much so that he confessed to eating a spoonful of it everyday.  Whether or not eating Vaseline has anything to do with the fact that Chesebrough lived to be 96,remains to be discussed.

What remains true is that even with the development of other types of petroleum jelly, you can’t speak of petroleum jelly without speaking of Vaseline. In fact for some people think that every type of petroleum jelly is called Vaseline.