Sunday, June 14, 2015

"Be curious always!

For knowledge will not acquire you; you must acquire it. 
    ~Sudie Back

If you read this blog, you know my curiosity sets me off, and this week it was this 5 pound vintage can of Vaseline that got me thinking.

I must say that I will never look at Vaseline jelly in the same way anymore.  Some oddities that it is used for:  coat the feet of fending machines to keep pests out; rub in chickens to prevent frostbite; coat everything from baby's bottoms to lips, and manage out-of-control hair.

The name Vaseline comes from the German word for water-wasser- and the Greek word for oil-elaion—though I never thought German and Greek mixed (if you follow the world economy that is even more true today!).  The -ine was added to make it sound scientific.
We have a 22 year old British chemist to thank for this pure jelly.  Robert Chesebrough was using sperm whale oil to make kerosene but wanted to explore other petroleum products.  He was in Titusville, Pennsylvania, in 1859 to study the oil fields there, and he noticed the workers using a residue from the oil drilling to help heal cuts and bruises.  The workers called it rod wax since it had to be removed periodically from the oil rig pumps.  He took samples to his Brooklyn lab, and, after 5 years, patented a process that involves a triple-purification seal.  It still is made that way, filtered, distilled, and de-aerated to remove air bubbles.
Chesebrough continued working on the product and opened a factory in Brooklyn, NY in 1870.

Then, he traveled around New York by horse and buggy demonstrating his product.  Now, this part of the tale is the ultimate ad...he would burn his skin with acid or open flame, and the he would spread the clear jelly on the wounds all the while showing past burns that has healed.
In 1872 Chesebrough rebranded the Wonder Jelly as Vaseline, and by 1874 Vaseline Jelly was being purchased at the rate of 1400 jars a day.

In the 1880s, the iconic blue label became the trademark.
Since Chesebrough was a British citizen, Queen Victoria knighted him in 1883 and admitted to loving the jelly for her dry skin.  By the early 1900s, he had factories in Perth Amboy, NJ, Europe, Canada, and Africa.
In 1909, Commander Peary took a jar to the North Pole, and both World War I and World War II soldiers used it to treats wounds and burns.

Chesebrough came down with a bout of pleurisy and had himself drenched top to toe with Vaseline, and he soon recovered. Shortly before his death in 1933 at 96 (average life expectancy then was 61), he revealed that he’d been eating a spoonful a day for several years.
In 1955 Chesebrough Manufacturing merged with Pond's Extract, and they still exist as Chesebrough-Ponds, Inc. but under the Unilever umbrella since 1987.

According to the web site, in 2005, it was determined that every 39 seconds a tub of Vaseline sold somewhere.  So, it seems Sir Chesebrough turned a rather strange petroleum by-product into a worldwide sensation.  Still remember...
               "Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul."
                                                  ~Samuel Ullman



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