Inventor Lunsford Richardson named his decongestant in honor of his brother-in-law, Joshua Vick. He named the salve VapoRub after the fact that body heat vaporized the salve when rubbed on the body.
In 1905, Lunsford Richardson, a pharmacist working in his brother-in-law’s drug store in Selma, North Carolina, aspired to create an ointment to decongest sinuses and relieve chest congestion. In the backroom laboratory of the pharmacy, he blended menthol (a newly introduced extract from oil of peppermint), petroleum jelly, and other ingredients from the pharmacy shelf. He named his creation Richardson’s Croup and Pneumonia Cure Salve.
When rubbed on the forehead and chest, Richardson’s Croup and Pneumonia Cure Salve—vaporized by body heat—stimulated blood circulation and decongested blocked sinuses.
Demand for the salve exceeded Richardson’s wildest expectations, prompting the pharmacist to market his new remedy. Seeking a catchier name for the product, Richardson decided to rename it in honor of his brother-in-law, Joshua Vick.
Richardson advertised Vicks VapoRub in local newspapers, with coupons redeemable for a free trial jar. He convinced the United States Postal Service to institute a new policy allowing him to send out advertisements for Vicks VapoRub addressed solely to “Boxholder,” effectively creating the concept of junk mail.
The 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic—killing 25 million people worldwide—sent sales of Vicks VapoRub skyrocketing, surpassing one million dollars.
In 1985, Procter & Gamble acquired the Vicks Chemical Company.
Vicks VapoRub contains camphor, eucalyptus oil, menthol, cedarleaf oil, nutmeg oil, special petrolatum, thymol, and turpentine oil.
People working in a morgue often smear Vicks VapoRub above their upper lip to mask the odor of a decomposing corpse.
In 2004, the New York Times reported that Botanica San Miguel in Newark, New Jersey, a small store catering to the needs of the followers of Santeria, an Afro-Caribbean religious tradition, sells “spiritual incense, good luck potions, and Vicks VapoRub.”
In 2007, Zoo keepers at Paultons Park near Romsey in Hampshire, England, prevented their two existing meerkats from instinctually attacking three newcomers by put Vicks VapoRub on the nose of each meerkat to hide the scents of the others long enough for all of them to accept each other.