From at least the 15th century, seamen would coat their sails with various natural fish or whale oils to improve efficiency. (And it is likely this technique was used by native peoples since time immemorial). Of course, the rugged, water-repellant nature of the oiled sails caught their eye, and they fashioned simple clothing – like capes - from torn sails.
In 1795 the Arbroath-based sail maker, Francis Webster Ltd., perfected the art of using linseed oil on flax sails. Making sails even lighter and more efficient.
Indeed, our founding myth, heralds from the very same year. In 1795, Franz Kraft, a life-long sailor of German and Swedish descent, continued to experiment with waterproofing sails and primitive sea-faring rain wear. His most successful advances involved mixing warmed beeswax and linseed oil to fortify the cloth. This advance proved wildly popular among with those with whom he crewed, although his technique of mixing oils with wax was not widely used again until the mid-1920’s.
Despite Franz Kraft’s experiments, however, this discovery is officially credited to the New Zealander Edward Le Roy, who in 1898 created a mixture of linseed oil and wax to create a foul weather garment.
A number of companies, including Francis Webster LTD and Millerain Co. LTD, continued to innovate in the 1930’s with the wide scale production of paraffin based fabrics. These waterproof fabrics were embraced widely by both the public and the military in WW II in the form of tents, raincoats and farming accessories.
As a consequence of this storied history, waxed jackets now have a very long and a deep heritage association with the British countryside and equestrian culture. And it is for this reason that nostalgia for this wonderful material continues to this day.