A man by the name of Pearle (that’s right Pearle) B. Wait, a one-time carpenter and entrepreneur from LeRoy, New York. Wait’s business was buying and manufacturing patent medicines. By 1895 he’d had some success making cough drops, cough syrup and laxatives, and decided to purchase the patent on a gelatin dessert that had been invented all the way back in 1845 by Peter Cooper (the fellow who invented the Tom Thumb steam engine and for whom the Cooper Union in New York is named). His wife May dubbed the creation “Jell-O” (being of modest means, they couldn’t afford all those capital letters).
Though Cooper had previously made a lot of progress isolating and packaging dry gelatin (he owned a glue factory, donchaknow), it’s the Waits who are credited with developing the sweet, fruit-flavored product we all know and love today. Unfortunately they didn’t do a very good job of selling it, and so, a few years later they sold the rights to a high school drop-out by the name of Frank Woodward, who was making a killing at the time selling an imitation coffee product by the name of “Grain-O”. For him, Jell-O was clearly the perfect addition to his “O” foods product line. He snapped up the patent and by 1906 had sold over a million dollars worth of it.
…to which the Pearle and May Wait must surely have responded: “d’Oh!”