Robert Augustus Chesebrough, (January 9, 1837 – September 8, 1933) was an American chemist. He discovered petroleum jelly which he marketed as Vaseline and he founded the Chesebrough Manufacturing Company.
Chesebrough began his career as a chemist clarifying kerosene from the oil of sperm whales. The discovery of petroleum in Titusville, Pennsylvania, rendered his job obsolete, so he traveled to Titusville to research what new materials might be created from the new fuel. This led to his discovery of petroleum jelly, which he trade-named as Vaseline. In 1875 he founded the Chesebrough Manufacturing Company that in 1955 became Chesebrough-Ponds, a leading manufacturer of personal care products. Chesebrough patented the process of making petroleum jelly (U.S. Patent 127,568) in 1872.
Chesebrough's success stemmed from firm belief in his product. Before Chesebrough began selling petroleum jelly, he tested it on his own cuts and burns. Having demonstrated the product's efficacy on himself, Chesebrough was still unable to sell any to drug stores until he travelled around New York State demonstrating his miracle product. In front of an audience he would burn his skin with acid or an open flame, then spread the clear jelly on his injuries while demonstrating past injuries, healed, he claimed, by his miracle product. To further create demand, he gave out free samples.
Chesebrough opened his first factory in 1870. The first known reference to the name Vaseline is in his U.S. patent: “I, Robert Chesebrough, have invented a new and useful product from petroleum which I have named 'Vaseline…'" . The etymology of the word is believed to come from German wasser (water) + Greek έλαιον (oil).
Chesebrough lived to be 96 years old and was such a believer in Vaseline that he claimed to have eaten a spoonful of it every day. He died at his house in Spring Lake, New Jersey. He also, reportedly, during a serious bout of pleurisy in his mid-50s, had his nurse rub him from head to foot with the substance. He soon recovered.
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- "Cheseborough". Retrieved 7 June 2011.
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- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.