Oil + Eyelashes = Maybelline?

Oil + Eyelashes = Maybelline?

By on Feb 27 2015

One might find it hard to correlate the relationship between oil fields and make-up products. In a bizarre way though, they go hand-in-hand.

In the mid-to-late 1800's, when Edwin Drake's oil discovery started the American petroleum industry as we know it, a young chemist named Robert Chesebrough rushed to the oil fields of Titusville, PA to begin what would become a very lucrative career. He was armed with the know-how to turn both cannel coal and oil into kerosene. This suited him well to work in the oil industry.

While working in the oil field, Chesebrough noticed that drilling would often be delayed due to a waxy substance that would clog the wellhead. Dubbed "sucker rod wax," the only practical use for it at the time was to aid abrasions, burns, and other minor wounds that drillers commonly suffered. Realizing the first-aid potential of this wax, Chesebrough left Pennsylvania for a laboratory in Brooklyn. There, he worked on purifying the sucker rod wax and gave it the name we know today as "petroleum jelly."

vaseline ad
Internet Archive Book Images, Image from page 443 of St. Nicholas [serial] " (1873). Flickr.

On June 4, 1872, Chesebrough patented Vaseline and within a decade, Americans were buying it off store shelves at a record pace.

Mabel Williams Hewes
Mabel Williams Hewes.

After Vaseline became widely available, women began finding alternative uses for the product. What they found is that mixing Vaseline with coal dust or another blackening agent worked very well as an impromptu, on-the-spot mascara.

In the early 1900's, Thomas Lyle Williams noticed his sister Mabel applying a similar substance after a cooking accident singed her eyebrows and lashes. In her "original formula," Mabel burned a cork and mixed the ashes with Vaseline.

Inspired by his sister's ingenuity and seeing the huge potential in the product, Williams began selling it by mail-order catalog under the name "Lash-Brow-Ine." The product took off and women loved it. As a way to honor his sister, Williams eventually renamed his product Maybelline.

In 1915, Maybelline was officially founded as a mail-order company.

The original compact Maybelline mascara.
The original compact Maybelline mascara.

Two years later in 1917, Williams' business developed Maybelline Cake Mascara, the first compact mascara. It became immensely popular and, eventually, Hollywood picked up on Maybelline. This was when the Williams family cosmetic line really took off.

The 1920's saw Maybelline get adopted by silent film make-up artists and the 1930's saw Maybelline mascara available at five-and-dime stores for a mere 10 cents. In 1932, the company shed its mail-order business model for a more commercial approach.

Today, Vaseline and Maybelline continue to be immensely successful brands and both have distant yet unique relations to the antiquated Pennsylvania oil derricks and wells of yesteryear.

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