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One day in 1859, a young chemist named Robert Chesebrough visited Titusville, Pennsylvania. He noticed that oilfield workers were using something they called “rod wax” to dress minor skin wounds.
Rod wax was an oil-drilling byproduct. Chesebrough was intrigued enough to start studying and refining the goop. By 1865 he had a lighter, transparent product, a mix of mineral oils and natural waxes, that he marketed under the name “Wonder Jelly.” It didn’t become Vaseline until 1872. (Fun fact: The name was derived from the German word for water, wasser, and the Greek word for oil, oleon.)
Although other companies now manufacture the stuff, some people still use the word “Vaseline” to mean petroleum jelly, the way they use “Xerox” for copy machine or “Band-Aid” for adhesive bandage.
Whatever you call it, you likely grew up with a jar of the old Wonder Jelly in your home. And what a wonder this emollient continues to be: Consumers use it in dozens of ways both inside and outside the home.
Take a look at this slide show, and you’ll never see petroleum jelly the same way again.