Sometimes a chemist comes up with a really cool compound that can fix one or two really important problems, and other times somebody discovers a material that has literally a gajillion uses. Glycerine, also known as glycerol, has about a gajillion uses — and that's not really an exaggeration.
Glycerine was first discovered in 1779 by a Swedish chemist named Carl Wilhelm Scheele — the same guy who first described the attributes of oxygen and a bunch of other elements like hydrogen, barium and chlorine. The late author and biochemist Isaac Asimov referred to him as "hard-luck Scheele," due to the fact that he was scooped by other scientists in publishing some of his most important findings, thereby losing full credit for these discoveries.
Scheele discovered glycerine accidentally while boiling together olive oil and lead monoxide, and he called the resulting material "the sweet principle of fat," because of its slightly sweet taste. Later, the French chemist Michel-Eugène Chevreul named it glycerine (from glykys, the Greek word for sweet).
Glycerine is a non-toxic, transparent, viscous, water-soluble liquid with a high boiling point that can be found in both vegetable and animal fats. Chemically, it acts like an alcohol, in that it can be reacted in some situations, but it's generally stable. Here are a few of the gajillion uses for this miraculous stuff: