Beauty rituals have long been a significant practice in our civilization’s history and traditions. Milk baths, massages, makeup made of plant tinctures and other elements have proven that the physical appearance has always played an important role in societies, regardless of the era.
Among the wide range of beauty products used by our ancestors is mascara. According to the Entrepreneur, the origins of this eye-beautifier date back to the time of Cleopatra, when Egyptians used ivory and bone to apply embellishment on their eyelashes.
This type of mascara was sticky and smelly, often made from crocodile dung, burnt almonds, kohl, honey, and water. What people wouldn’t do for their looks, right? Moreover, it turns out that even the Kama Sutra, an ancient Hindu text on the art of sex and seduction, offers a recipe for eyelash thickener, emphasizing the eyes as windows to the soul.
Luckily, today’s mascaras don’t contain bats, birds or droppings of any kind, although the path to the simple purchase of a lash enhancer a minute before your Friday night date was quite long.
One of the world’s most popular cosmetic brands, Maybelline tells the story of their first mascara, created by their founder Thomas Lyle Williams in the 19th century.
Many would find surprising to hear that a key ingredient in the very first Maybelline mascara was created by accident by a young New York chemist.
As reported by the American Oil and Gas Historical Society (AOGHS), in 1859, Robert Chesebrough entered the coal oil business as an expert of distilling cannel coal into kerosene which was in high demand among consumers at the time.
The young chemist went to Venango County oilfield where he noticed that the drilling was confounded by a substance that resembled waxy paraffin which clogged the wellhead and required scrapping away. However, this substance also turned out to be beneficial as first aid for abrasions, burns and other wounds which regularly afflicted the workers.
Chesebrough returned to his laboratory in New York where he purified the wax and dubbed it petroleum jelly. Shortly after, he filed the first patent for “purifying petroleum or coal oils by filtration”, experimenting with the analgesic effect of his petroleum jelly extract by applying it on minor cuts and burns.
In 1872, Chesebrough patented today’s worldwide known product Vaseline, advertising it as a leather treatment, pomade, lubricator and balm for chapped hands.
Vaseline hit the top of the list of most wanted and purchased products at the time, and customers described it as “the wonder jelly”. They loved it due to its multipurposeness, however it didn’t take long before ladies discovered another use of it.
As the AOGHS reports, Chesebrough’s female customers realized that mixing lamp black with Vaseline by using a toothpick made a mascara. In 1913, Miss Mabel William applied this type of concoction while preparing for a date. Her brother, Thomas Lyle Williams noticed her makeup ritual and wondered what it’d be like if he added a bit of Vaseline in the mixture. Mabel’s simple makeup trick launched the billion-dollar business for her brother.
He began selling the concoction by mail-order catalog, naming the product “Lash-Brow-line”. The mascara became a real sellout quickly, so in 1917, Williams trademarked the description as a “preparation for stimulating the growth of eyebrows and eyelashes”. His sister Mabel married in 1926, and Williams decided to rename the mascara in her honor: Maybelline.
Maybelline elevated the popularity of Williams’ cosmetics company while Hollywood stars, such as the silent screen divas Pola Negri and Theda Bara, spread the word about the new, wondrous makeup that made ladies look daring and glamorous.
By the 1930s, the mascara was being sold at five-and-dime stores for 10 cents. Maybelline advertised the mascara in films, confession magazines, and Sunday newspaper supplements.
The sales just kept going up, and the number of customers keeps on increasing even today since both Vaseline and Maybelline are listed among the world’s all-time favorite cosmetic products.