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Robert Chesebrough

Robert Chesebrough, (1837-1933) was a British-born chemist and inventor of petroleum jelly, trade-named Vaseline. He also founded the company that later 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 began his career as a chemist distilling 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.

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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 name has been anecdotally claimed to be from the German word for water, wasser (pronounced vahser), and the Greek word for oil, elaion, but this is unconfirmed.

Chesebrough lived to be 96 years old and claimed to have eaten a spoonful of Vaseline every day. He was such a believer in Vaseline that during a bout of pleurisy, he had his body completely covered in the substance. He soon recovered.


  • This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Robert_Chesebrough". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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