• picture
  • picture
  • picture
  • picture
Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Almanac/Cool Lube

Air Date: Week of

This week, facts about Vaseline. Petroleum jelly was first patented this week back in 1872 by a New York chemist named Robert Chesebrough.


CURWOOD: Welcome back to Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood.

[MUSIC: Frankie Valli “Grease” Grease Polygram (1978)]

CURWOOD: One hundred and thirty-one years ago this week, Brooklyn-based chemist Robert Chesebrough wrote the U.S. Patent Office about his new invention.

He called it “a thick, oily, pasty substance, semi-solid in appearance, and unobjectionable in odor.” He suggested uses for his versatile goo, praising it as “a pomade for hair, a moisturizer for chapped hands, a lubricator for machinery, and a treatment for leather.” And so the world was introduced to Vasoline.

Mr. Chesebrough slipped into his greasy venture after a visit to a petroleum refinery in Pennsylvania. He was a kerosene salesman and this newfangled replacement for whale oils caught his eye, especially the residual sludge that gathered on the drilling machines. The so-called “rod wax” clogged the rigs, but workers found that it came in handy when they got burned. They used it to treat injuries.

Robert Chesebrough knew a good thing when he saw it. He filtered the tarry gunk to make it cleaner, and hit the road. He put on live shows in which he would cut or burn himself and slather Vasoline on his wounds. Then he would wow the audience by showing off scars from earlier injuries, healed by his product. The jelly formed a barrier that blocked germs. By 1874, he was selling a jar a minute.

Mr. Chesebrough lived well into his 90s. Perhaps he owed his longevity to the spoonful of Vasoline he swallowed every day of his adult life.

And for this week, that’s the Living on Earth Almanac.



Living on Earth wants to hear from you!

Living on Earth
62 Calef Highway, Suite 212
Lee, NH 03861
Telephone: 617-287-4121
E-mail: comments@loe.org

Newsletter [Click here]

Donate to Living on Earth!
Living on Earth is an independent media program and relies entirely on contributions from listeners and institutions supporting public service. Please donate now to preserve an independent environmental voice.

Living on Earth offers a weekly delivery of the show's rundown to your mailbox. Sign up for our newsletter today!

Sailors For The Sea: Be the change you want to sea.

Creating positive outcomes for future generations.

Innovating to make the world a better, more sustainable place to live. Listen to the race to 9 billion

The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment: Committed to protecting and improving the health of the global environment.

Contribute to Living on Earth and receive, as our gift to you, an archival print of one of Mark Seth Lender's extraordinary wildlife photographs. Follow the link to see Mark's current collection of photographs.

Buy a signed copy of Mark Seth Lender's book Smeagull the Seagull & support Living on Earth