Percy Lavon Julian, born 1899, brought relief to millions with aches and pains caused by rheumatoid arthritis. His synthesis of cortisone made the treatment affordable.
In a lifetime of continual striving, Percy L. Julian succeeded against the prejudices and discrimination of his time to become a pathbreaking synthetic chemist, a successful industrial research director, and a wealthy businessman.
Despite his accomplishments as a recognized and published researcher, Percy Julian was denied a faculty position at DePauw. Frustrated in his efforts to gain an academic post, Julian turned to industry. One research job fell through because of a town law forbidding “housing of a Negro overnight.” Then, in 1936, a door opened when Julian was offered a position as director of research for soya products for Glidden in Chicago. Over the next 18 years, the results of his soybean protein research produced numerous patents and successful products for Glidden, among them a paper coating and a fire-retardant foam used widely in WWII to extinguish gasoline fires. His biomedical research made it possible to produce large quantities of synthetic progesterone and hydrocortisone at a low cost.
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Excerpted with permission, National Historic Chemical Landmarks Program