The peculiar beginnings of an everyday product

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Louisiana Treasures Museum and Educational Center would like to give you the history of something you probably use or see everyday and take for granted – Petroleum Jelly!

In 1859, Robert Chesbrough, a chemist, was searching for a new pharmaceutical discovery to save himself from bankruptcy. Interested in the oil buisness, he traveled to Pennsylcannia. When he arrived the workers in the oilfield told him of a paste-like residue that stuck to the drilling rods, gumming them up. They said even though this residue caused them problems, it helped heal cuts and burns. Chesbrough gathered bottles of it and went back to New York.

After several years of testing he came up with a clear, smooth jelly that he named Chesbrough Petroleum Jelly. In 1870, he started manufacturing the world’s first Vaseline. He purchased a horse and buggy and went door to door selling it. After six months he hired 12 more people with horses and buggies to sell Vaseline.

In 1912, a fire swept through an insurance company and the burn victims were treated with Vaseline. It worked so well all the hospitals wanted it and the rest, as they say, is history.

The Louisiana Treasures Museum has four original jars on display. One jar is from 1870, another 1890, the third from 1900 and the last from 1914. All were found while diving in Lake Pontchartrain and are now a part of the display of old bottles in the museum. For more information, call Lt. Wayne Norwood at 225-294-8352.

Wayne Norwood is a lieutenant with the St. John Parish Sheriff’s Department and owner and operator of the Louisiana Treasures Museum located at 10290 Highway 22, West Pontchatoula.