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A young man in Herne Bay, Kent, England, around 1903 to 1914, showing hair groomed with Macassar oil
Macassar oil is a compounded oil used primarily by Western European men throughout the 1800s and early 1900s as a hair conditioner to groom and style the hair.
It was popularised by Alexander Rowland (1747-1823), a celebrated London barber. It was then not uncommon for barbers to make their own hair preparations, and around 1783 Rowland began offering Rowland's Macassar Oil. Within two decades it had become hugely popular, and was aggressively advertised with extravagant claims of its effectiveness, becoming one of the first nationally advertised products.
The words Macassar Oil were registered as a trademark by A. Rowland & Sons in 1888. Rowland's son (also named Alexander) later stated that a relative living in the island of Celebes in the Dutch East Indies had helped in procurement of the basic ingredient.
Illustration by Thomas Rowlandson from around 1814 making fun of the false claim in some advertisements that Macassar oil would stimulate hair growth on balding men
Due to the tendency for the oil to transfer from the user's hair to the back of his chair, the antimacassar was developed. This is a small cloth (crocheted, embroidered or mass-produced), placed over the back of a chair to protect the upholstery.