Vicks VapoRub, a Mighty Salve

Early examples of Vicks VapoRub from the
N.C. Museum of History

On December 29, 1854 Lunsford Richardson, the inventor of Vicks VapoRub, was born in Johnston County. After graduating from Davidson College with a degree in Latin in 1875, Richardson joined his brother-in-law, Dr. Joshua Vick in Selma. There he used his Latin skills to learn the names of chemicals used as drugs and become a pharmacist.

In 1890, he moved to his wife’s hometown of Greensboro, buying W.C. Porter’s drug store with partner John B. Fariss. His most famous employee there was writer O. Henry, then only a teenager.

Richardson went on to patent 21 medicines, including Vick’s Magic Croup Salve in 1894. Renamed Vicks VapoRub in 1911, it is still sold today. The salve in the blue jar is composed of menthol, camphor, oil of eucalyptus and several other oils, blended in a base of petroleum jelly.

Richardson is credited with marketing to post office box holders without personalizing the materials, thus inventing “junk mail.” He was a trustee of the Palmer Memorial Institute in Sedalia and a champion of race relations. The Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-19 increased demand for VapoRub but also claimed Richardson, who died of pneumonia in 1919.

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