Celebrating the invention of Vaseline

It is today, 135 years ago on 14 May 1878, that the Vaseline trademark was registered for the petroleum jelly product developed almost a decade earlier by English chemist Robert Augustus Chesebrough.

Chesebrough initially went to Titusville Pa in the USA during the petroleum boom, and became interested in a paste-like residue that clogged the pumps of the oil drillers. Although a rough and unrefined paste, local oil workers had already started using it on burns to promote healing. Chesebrough started experimenting with different ways of extracting and purifying the paste, eventually finding an effective way of manufacturing the petroleum jelly which he called ‘Vaseline’. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, “the name is of mixed origin, being derived from Wasser, water, and elaion [Greek in the original], oil (water-oil), and indicates the belief of the discoverer that petroleum, the mother of Vaseline, is produced by the agency of heat and pressure from the carbon of certain rocks, and the hydrogen of water.”

Moisturising, lubricating Vaseline. (© All Rights Reserved)
Moisturising, lubricating Vaseline.
(© All Rights Reserved)

He patented it on 4 June 1872. Realising the potential of the product, he began selling it through his Chesebrough Manufacturing Company. Vaseline continued to be made and sold by Chesebrough’s company for more than a century, until the company was purchased by Unilever in 1987.

It is quite amazing, when you think about the fact that Vaseline started out as an unwanted byproduct of the oil drilling process, what an incredibly useful and versatile product it turned out to be. Not only is it a great moisturiser, working wonders on dry lips, tired eyes and chapped skin (esp hands, heels and elbows), but it also makes a great exfoliating body rub, when mixed with sea salt. From a medicinal point of view, it can sooth and protect burns, grazes, cuts and sensitive shaved skin (or even new tattoos!).

For the DIY types, Vaseline is great to keep screw-in light bulbs or bottle lids from sticking, to sort out a squeaky hinge or to loosen a stiff bike chain. It can also be used to remove watermarks from wood, or lipstick stains from napkins and clothing. It’s even useful as emergency shoe-shine. Oh, and here’s one you may not have heard – when you carve up a Halloween pumpkin, you can rub Vaseline on the exposed cuts on the pumpkin to keep it from rotting or drying out!

And you may know the story of how Vaseline can be used for sex: simply apply it to the bedroom doorknob – it works great to keep the kids out. 🙂

So here’s to Robert Chesebrough and his Vaseline – lubricating the world since 1878.

Read my lips – the invention of non-smear lipstick

Today we’re discussing a subject that’s on many women’s lips – we’re celebrating the birth of Hazel Bishop (17 Aug 1906 – 5 Dec 1998), an American chemist, cosmetic executive, and the inventor of non-smear lipstick.

The saying goes that “gentlemen prefer blondes”, but research shows that if her lipstick is red enough, he may not notice her hair.
(© All Rights Reserved)

While the impact of this invention on the progress of humankind may be limited, it certainly left an indelible mark on the cosmetics industry.

Interestingly, it is said that Ms Bishop got the idea while working as an organic chemist for Standard Oil Development Company, after discovering the cause of deposits affecting superchargers of aircraft engines. She set about on a quest of relentless experimenting with various mixtures of staining dyes, oils, and molten wax until, in 1949, she perfected a lipstick that stayed on the lips better than any existing product available at the time.

Knowing she had a winner on her hands, she founded a cosmetics company, Hazel Bishop, Inc, manufacturing non-smear lipstick which was introduced to the public at $1 per tube. It proved a runaway success, with her company’s lipstick sales skyrocketing from $50 thousand in 1950 to $10 million in 1953.

Sadly, she lost control of the company in 1954 after a proxy fight with her stockholders. Not allowing this to get her down, she went on to start a research laboratory, became a stockbroker specialising in cosmetics stocks, and finally, in 1978, a professor at a fashion institute.

The story of lipstick is an interesting one. It’s use dates back to ancient times, with some very, uhm… interesting ingredients used. Ancient Egyptions used a mix of sea-based algae, iodine and bromine, while Cleopatra preferred the hue she got from the deep red pigment in crushed carmine beetles, with crushed ants used as a base. Over the years, ingredients used in lipstick have included beeswax, plant-based stains, fish scales (for a shimmering effect), deer tallow, and castor oil, to name just a few.

Through the ages, the use and acceptability of lipstick varied – in certain eras it was associated with high class and royalty, while other times saw its use confined to actors and prostitutes. Since the early 20th century, however, its use has become generally acceptable among all levels of society.

In a recent research project, studying men’s responses to women in the first 10 seconds after seeing them for the first time, researchers found that men are drawn to the lips more than any other facial feature. The extent to which the lips dominated their attention depended quite strongly on the use of lipstick.

In the case of a woman wearing prominent lipstick, men’s eyes would be fixated on the lips for between 6.7 seconds (pink lipstick) and 7.3 seconds (red lipstick) out of the first 10 seconds – less than one second was spent looking at her eyes, and even less studying her hair. Without make-up, men still paid attention to the lips, but in this case things were more balanced, with the gaze being shared almost equally between the lips, the eyes and the rest of the face.

It was found that men also preferred fuller lips, but the appeal of thin lips increased by 40% once lipstick had been applied.

It seems to me that the simplest solution to hiding any facial flaws is simply an abundant splash of red lipstick – men at least would seem unlikely to look at anything else. However, for women who consider their eyes and the rest of their faces worth looking at may want to hold back on the lipstick!

I cannot help but wonder whether the study focussed on only the first 10 seconds of the men’s gaze, because after this their attention moved to other parts of the anatomy? Perhaps that’s a topic for further research…