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Sir Robert Chesebrough
Robert Augustus Chesebrough
January 9, 1837
|Died||September 8, 1933 (aged 96)|
Spring Lake, New Jersey, US
|Known for||Petroleum jelly|
(m. 1864; died 1887)
Sir Robert Augustus Chesebrough, (January 9, 1837 – September 8, 1933) was an American chemist. He discovered petroleum jelly, which he marketed as Vaseline, and founded the Chesebrough Manufacturing Company.
Born in London to American parents on January 9, 1837, Robert Chesebrough was raised in New York City.
He married Margaret McCredy on April 28, 1864, and they had four children.
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. As he was strolling around the oil field, he found out about something called rod wax, also known as petroleum jelly. It's a jellylike substance that was cleaned off of the pumping equipment often. Chesebrough was told it was a nuisance, except when someone had a cut or burn. If it was rubbed on an injury, then it would lessen the pain and make the injury heal quicker. He then trade-named the jelly 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. By 1874, stores were selling over 1,400 jars of Vaseline a day.
Chesebrough's success stemmed from a firm belief in his product. Before he began selling petroleum jelly, he tested it on his own cuts and burns. Chesebrough was still unable to sell any to drug stores until he traveled around New York 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. In reality, it doesn't heal cuts and burns, the jelly forms a layer, causing dirt to not get in (one of the leading causes of death and disease in his day were due to open wounds being infected) and trapping the moisture in. To further create demand, he gave out free samples, one of the first instances of it ever being done.
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 word is believed to come from German Wasser (water) + Ancient Greek: έλαιον (oil).
Allegedly, Queen Victoria was a huge fan of the product and used it daily. In 1883, Chesebrough was knighted by Queen Victoria for his scientific accomplishment. To this day, it prevents more than 98% of transepidermal water loss as an emollient and remains a treatment of choice following cutaneous surgery. 
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 Vaseline. He soon recovered, and credited his recovery to Vaseline. He is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, New York City.
- Whitehall Building, a building developed by Chesebrough in New York City
- Hall, Henry, ed. (1895). America's Successful Men of Affairs: An Encyclopedia of Contemporaneous Biography. I. The New York Tribune Company. pp. 137–140. Retrieved December 2, 2021 – via Internet Archive.
- "Robert Chesebrough ate a Spoonful of Vaseline a Day". Ripley's Believe It or Not!. April 5, 2016.
- Lindsay, David (2000). House of invention: the secret life of everyday products. New York, N.Y.: Lyons Press. pp. 20–21. ISBN 9781558217409.
- Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica. 27 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 946. .
- Jayakumar, Kishore L.; Micheletti, Robert G. (2017). "Robert Chesebrough and the Dermatologic Wonder of Petroleum Jelly". JAMA Dermatology. 153 (11): 1157. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2017.3544. PMID 29117303.
- Schwager, E. (1998). "From Petroleum Jelly to Riches". Drug News & Perspectives. 11 (2): 127.
- "Cheseborough". Retrieved June 7, 2011.
- Moskowitz, Milton; Michael Katz; Robert Levering (1980). Everybody's Business: An Almanac : an Irreverent Guide to Corporate America. Harper & Row. p. 199. ISBN 0-06-250620-X.