By: Dan Miller


At 22, Robert Chesebrough had already failed in his first business. Then some oil rig friends told him about a sticky oil by-product called rod wax. It jammed their drills but seemed to have magical healing powers. Chesebrough experimented in his basement laboratory by cutting and burning his arms and hands. He extracted the wax’s essential ingredient, a colorless, odorless jelly, slathering it on his wounds. He called it Vaseline and began selling it in one-ounce tins for a penny each.

He demonstrated his jelly at construction sites, gashing or scorching himself and then showing how Vaseline would stop the bleeding and begin a healing process. By 1874 he was selling a jar a minute and people were rubbing the salve not only on scrapes and cuts but on wooden furniture, cracked leather, rusted farm equipment and chapped lips.

This worthless petroleum by-product spawned the Chesebrough-Ponds empire. Though there were many other products through the years, Chesebrough remained uncommonly faithful to his first discovery. He ate a spoonful of the stuff every morning, claiming it enabled him to live to the ripe old age of 96.

There is still room for extraordinary success from very simple ideas. What’s yours?


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