Robert Chesebrough

 The world of invention and innovation is a fascinating world. Observing potential needs or in other words, knowing current challenges and trying to solve them using a creative solution, may bring the inventor's satisfaction, in addition to financial gain, and significant added value. An examination of small and large inventions developed throughout history shows that the story of their origin and even their applications are highly interesting.

Many of the inventions were discovered in a completely random process, and some had dual and far-reaching manner. In this example, the inventors accidentally address another need or problem with their invention. Interestingly, some inventions themselves are a problem and only require a creative mind and a different perspective to turn this problem into a profitable business opportunity! Vaseline is one of those cases that became one of the most common industrial and health products as a result of a completely accidental occurrence, while it was thought to be a destructive and harmful substance.


Vaseline, or in other words, petroleum jelly, is one of the products of the petrochemical industry that has significant applications in various fields. You can use Vaseline for cosmetic purposes (strengthening and polishing facial makeup and strengthening eyelashes and eyebrows), health and skin protection (preventing dry skin, treating frostbite, preventing sweating and itching of the skin, and even eliminating bad foot odor);  use in clothing and jewelry (removing tight rings, polishing leather clothes, and polishing shoes), cleaning and household items (repairing scratches and abrasions on wooden furniture, cleaning gum, and lubricating door and window hinges). But the question raised here: how was this amazing and a functional substance produced and by whom was it first discovered?


According to historical documents and shreds of pieces of evidence, Vaseline was discovered in the mid-nineteenth century. Interestingly, Vaseline is a brand name for oil drilling by-products that have survived due to successful commercialization and widespread use. It all started with Robert Chesebrough, a 22-year-old American chemist, traveling to the Titusville oil field in Pennsylvania, USA.

Robert Chesebrough had something happen to him that none of us would want, his job became outmoded. Robert Chesbrough was born in 1837 in London to American parents. He later immigrated to the United States. Chesebrough was a chemist, and his job consisted of clarifying kerosene from the oil of sperm whales. But his job came to an end when oil was discovered in Titusville, Pennsylvania. He didn’t let his newfound unemployment get him down, however, and he decided to travel to Titusville to figure out what new products could be made from the black stuff coming out of the ground.


 He began experimenting with the new idea and, in 1859, visited an oil field in Pennsylvania to gain a better understanding of new oil extraction processes. There he found that a jelly-like substance entered the components of petroleum equipment and disrupted their operation. Interestingly, the workers used this substance to remove scratches and burns on their skin. More precisely, they removed the oil residue on the drill bit and rubbed it on their skin to repair the cuts and burns.


Chesbro drew attention to this jelly-like substance. He discovered that this by-product of the drilling process could have unique healing properties for the skin, so he began experimenting with it. The result of these experiments, which lasted almost a decade, was the production of petrolatum gel, which was used in the cosmetics industry. The inventor of Vaseline took his invention to New York and to show its amazing results to the public, he burned his skin with acid or flame and then used Vaseline to heal the wound and show its effectiveness in relieving and healing wounds.

 This creative marketing method became useful, and as demand increased, in 1870, Chesbrough established his own company, the Chesebrough Manufacturing Company.


It should be noted that Robert Chesbrough strongly believed in the commercial value of his petroleum product, so he filed his invention application in the US patent system before taking any formal commercialization of his product. The result was the issuance of a patent certificate, US 127568, on June 4, 1872. This patent provided a suitable protective umbrella for this amazing material and its inventor. "I, Robert Chesbrough, invented a new and useful oil product called Vaseline," the patent said. The word "Vaseline" is believed to be derived from the German words "Wasser" (meaning water) and "έλαιον" (meaning oil).


Chesbro's success was due to his strong belief in his product. Before marketing and trying to sell petroleum jelly, he first tested it on his wounds and burns. He then conducted the experiment in the presence of customers in a completely public manner, and finally provided free samples to customers to see for themselves the incredible effects. Vaseline created a protective layer on the cuts and burns that both prevented dirt and infection from entering and accelerated healing by keeping the skin moist. By 1874, Vaseline was available in stores across the United States, selling about 1,400 bottles a day.


Since then, Vaseline has become a popular and practical product, and it is even said that Queen Victoria, in 1883, was awarded the title of Knight for her scientific success due to her great interest in Vaseline and its daily use.