Dr. Percy Julian

    Creator of 130+ patents, entrepreneur, pioneer of industrial-scale synthesis of human hormones, renowned expert on making drugs from plants, and first African-American chemist to be elected to the National Academy of Sciences, Chicagoan Dr. Percy Lavon Julian caps off our celebration of #blackhistorymonth!

    Born 1899 and earning his PhD from Universität Wien in 1931, in 1936 Julian was offered a professorship at DePauw University, but when he arrived they rescinded it because they were "unaware he was a negro". Ironically, they apparently forgot he graduated as DePauw's valedectorian in 1920.

    But Glidden then hired him to be Director of Research in Chicago for their new Soy Products Division. There, he supervised construction of the new factory/lab where he and his teams developed methods to isolate and modify soy proteins for use in paint and fire extinguishers. For saving thousands of sailors' lives from fire, the NAACP awarded him the Spingarn Medal, its highest honor.

    In 1957, Julian, who had moved to Oak Park, Illinois as its first African-American resident, left Glidden to start his own company, Julian Laboratories in Franklin Park, Illinois. There, he and his teams developed new methods of efficiently making industrial quantities of human hormones such as hydrocortisone, prednisone, and progesterone from plant sources. In 1961 he responded to market conditions and sold the company for a profit that enabled him to establish Julian Associates and the Julian Research Institute in 1964. He died in 1975.

    Julian's legacy is commemorated in many ways. 
    * The American Chemical Society recognized his synthesis of physostigmine with a Nationcal Chemical Historical Landmark in 1999.
    * Chicago Public Schools named Percy L. Julian High School after him in 1975 
    * Oak Park named Percy Julian Middle School for him in 1985.  
    • DePauw University, in a possible act of contrition, renamed their science and math building after him, and its host city, Greencastle, Indiana, named a street after him. 
    • He was on a US Postal Service stamp in 1993
    * He was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1990. 
    * Other buildings and awards across the country bear his name.

    Dr. Percy Julian will always stand as one of the world's greatest chemists, and we're proud he made Chicagoland his home. 

    Learn more about him at: