The discovery of glycerol.


Glycerol (also called as glycerine or glycerin) is a sweet syrupy hygroscopic trihydroxy alcohol with the chemical formula C3H8O3. It is “usually obtained by the saponification of natural fats and oils: used for sweetening and preserving food, in the manufacture of cosmetics, perfumes, inks, and certain glues and cements, as a solvent and automobile antifreeze, and in medicine in suppositories and skin emollients.”[1]


The German-Swedish pharmaceutical chemist Carl Wilhelm Scheele discovered glycerol. A 1784 publication[2] describes how he discovered it:

  • He was preparing a paste(salve) that is applied to linen cloth and wrapped around wounds where he prepared it by heating vegetable oil with lead(II) oxide and water hence the mixture consisted of lead salts and fatty acids.
  • As the lead oxide hydrolysed the fat, glycerol was liberated and was washed away with water. Scheele investigated its properties and called the glycerol “the sweet matter”.

Here is a portrait[3] of Carl Wilhelm Scheele:

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  2., pages 99-101.

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