Petroleum jelly or petrolatum is a byproduct of the refining of petroleum, made from the residue of petroleum distillation left in the still after all the oil has been vaporized.
Vaseline is a brand of petroleum jelly based products owned by Anglo-Dutch company Unilever. Products include plain petroleum jelly and a selection of skin creams, soaps, lotions, cleansers, deodorants, and personal lubricants.
Petroleum jelly was discovered by Robert Chesebrough in 1859 in Brooklyn, New York. Chesebrough was intrigued by the paraffin-like substance that stuck to the drilling rigs. The riggers hated the material because it caused the rigs to seize up, but they used it on cuts and burns because it hastened healing. Chesebrough bottled the petroleum jelly and took it back to his office where he tested it on himself.
He gave out free samples across New York and within six months he had twelve wagons distributing the product, under the trade name Vaseline, across the state. The term Vaseline was coined as a combination of the German word for water, Wasser (pronounced Vahser), and the Greek word for oil, elaion.
In 1872, Chesebrough patented (U.S. Patent 127,568) the process of making petroleum jelly. The patent said that distillation by heat under vacuum involves less heat than without the vacuum, and yields a better quality of jelly. The product is then filtered through bone char.
Robert Chesebrough lived to the age of 96 and claimed to have eaten a spoonful of Vaseline everyday. He was such a believer in Vaseline that during a bout of pleurisy, he had his body completely covered with it from head to toe. He soon recovered.
Uses mentioned in Chesebrough's patent include currying, stuffing, and oiling all kinds of leather. The finest grade of petroleum jelly is also adapted for use as a pomade for the hair. It is also used for treating chapped hands or lips, and toenail fungus, and as a sexual lubricant, though being oil-based it can destroy the effectiveness of latex condoms. Petroleum jelly is known for its treatment of nosebleeds.
Petroleum jelly may also be used as a lubricant when shaving with a razor (not with an electric razor).
Petroleum jelly is also smeared around the base of bulk vending machines to prevent ants from crawling up and contaminating the candy.