Dr Percy L. Julian

Percy Julian, a black inventor, managed to make several life saving and life improving inventions inspite the racist efforts to keep him down.

Percy Julian was born on April 11, 1899 in Birmingham, Alabama. He was the grandson of a former slave. As the son of a railroad mail clerk and a school teacher all five of his siblings and himself were well educated. His two brothers became physicians and his thee sisters receive Masters degrees.

Receiving his education was not easy. Percy attended elementary school in Birmingham where there was no public education for blacks after the eighth grade. He then attended a private Negro high school at the State Normal School for Negroes Montgomery, Alabama, where he graduated in 1916.

Julian applied to and was accepted into DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana, where he started as a probationary student, as he had to fill in gaps in high school education while working through his freshman and sophomore course load. As a member of Sigma Xi honorary society and Phi Beta Kappa, he graduated from DePauw in 1920, as the class valedictorian. He was then discouraged from entering graduate school due to potential racial sentiment on the part of future coworkers and employers, and took a position as a chemistry teacher at Fisk University, a Black college in Nashville, Tennessee at the advice of a senior advisor.

After two years at Fisk, Julian was awarded the Austin Fellowship in Chemistry and moved to the distinguished Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts where he completed his Masters Degree in 1923 at the top of class. Denied teaching positions at any major universities because of his race, Percy Julian accepted a teaching position at West Virginia State College for Negroes. He later left West Virginia and served as an associate professor of chemistry at Howard University in Washington, D.C. for two years.

In 1929, Julian qualified for and received a Fellowship from the General Education Board and traveled to Vienna, Austria in pursuit of a Ph.D. degree where he studied under Ernst Späth, who synthesized nicotine and ephedrine, at the University of Vienna. Julian received his Ph.D. in 1931, then returned to the United States and worked at Howard University as the head of the school's chemistry department. He soon left Howard and moved back to DePauw where he was appointed a teacher in organic chemistry.

Percy Julian attempted to isolated simple compounds in natural products, investigate how those compounds were naturally altered into essentials like vitamins and hormones, and created the compounds artificially. At the age of 36, while still at DePauw, he worked with an associate from Vienna, Dr. Josef Pikl, on the synthesis of physostigmine, a drug which was used as a treatment for glaucoma. This achievement still remains important as it shows promise for the treatment of Alzheimer's disease and for combating the effects of chemical weapons. A second discovery of artificial steroids and sex hormones soon followed.

When Julian became internationally hailed for his achievements the Dean of the University sought to appoint Julian to the position as Chair of the Chemistry department, but was talked out of it by others in the department, again because his race.

In late 1935, Percy entered the corporate world. One research job fell through because of a town law forbidding "housing of a Negro overnight." He was eventually offered a position with the Glidden Company as chief chemist and the Director of the Soya Product Division. He was the first Black scientist hired for such a position. The Glidden Company was a leading manufacturer of paint and varnish and was counting on Julian to develop compounds from soy-based products which could be used to make paints and other products and he developed a commercial process for isolating and preparing Soya bean protein, which could be used to coat and size paper, to create cold water paints, and to size textiles.

His work at Glidden led to some non-paint related discoveries. Percy developed aero-foam which worked as a flame retardant and which was by the United States Navy. It saved the lives of countless sailors during World War II. He developed a way to inexpensively develop male and female hormones from soy beans. These hormones would help to prevent miscarriages in pregnant women and would be used to fight cancer and other ailments. His most renowned invention, the Preparation of Cortisone, Patent No. 2,752,339 greatly relieved the pain of suffered by rheumatoid arthritis. Though natural cortisone was already being used by the rich to treat arthritis, as it had to be extracted from the adrenal glands of an oxen, it cost hundreds of dollars per drop; Julian's synthetic cortisone was only pennies per ounce.

On December 24, 1935, Percy married Anna Johnson, and began a comfortable life in Chicago. In 1950 the City of Chicago named him Chicagoan of the Year. Soon afterward, he after purchased a home for his family in nearby Oak Park, and the home was set afire by an arsonist on Thanksgiving day. A year later, dynamite was thrown from a passing car and exploded outside the bedroom window of Percy's children. He did not let these circumstances chase him away, however. As of 1985, Anna Julian and her daughter still occupy the original Julian house on East Avenue. Today the town celebrates his birthday as a holiday, and has a local middle school named after him.

In 1954, Julian left the Glidden Company to establish Julian Laboratories which specialized in producing his synthetic cortisone. When he discovered that wild yams in Mexico were even more effective than Soya beans for some of his products, he opened the Laboratorios Julian de Mexico in Mexico City, Mexico in order to cultivate the yams which were then shipped to Oak Park for refinement. In 1961 he sold both plants to Smith, Kline and French, a giant pharmaceutical company and received a sum of 2.3 million dollars, a staggering amount for a Black man at that time.

Julian held more than 100 chemical patents, wrote many papers on his work, and received dozens of awards and honorary degrees. His techniques and products led directly to the development of chemical birth control and medicines to suppress the immune system, crucial in performing organ transplants. After years of struggling for respect in his field and his community, Julian finally was recognized as a genius and a pioneer. He received countless award and honors and was asked to serve on numerous commissions and advisory boards. Julian continued his private research studies and served as a consultant to major pharmaceutical companies until his death, due to liver cancer on April 19, 1975. He was also active as a fund-raiser for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) for their project to sue to enforce civil-rights legislation.

His resume is as follows:

Academic Honors:

National Academy of Sciences, 1973

American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1973

Sigma Xi, Northwestern University, 1945

Phi Beta Kappa, DePauw University, 1920

Honorary Degrees

D.Sc., DePauw University, 1947

D.Sc., Fisk University, November, 1947

D.Sc., West Virginia State College 1948

D.Sc., Northeastern University, Boston, October, 19848

D.Sc., Morgan State College, Baltimore, June, 1950

D.Sc., Howard University, Washington, D.C., June, 1951

D.Sc., Northwestern University, Evanston, June, 1951

D.Sc., Lincoln University, Philadelphia, April, 1954

D.Sc., Roosevelt University, Chicago, September, 1961

D.Sc., Virginia State College, Petersburg, May, 1962

D.Sc., Morehouse College, Atlanta, Georgia, May, 1962

D.Sc., Oberlin College, Oberlin, Ohio, June, 1964

LL.D., Lafayette College, Easton, Pennsylvania, September, 1968

L.H.D., MacMurray Collage Jacksonville, Illinois, June, 1969

D.Sc., Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana, June, 1969

D.Sc., Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan, June, 1972

LL.D., Atlanta University, Atlanta, Georgia, May, 1973

LL.D., Illinois State University, Normal-Bloomington, Illinois, May 1974

D.Sc., Lincoln University of Missouri, Jefferson City, May 10, 1975 (posthumously)

Academic and Civic Citations:

Spingarn Medal Award, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), June 27, 1947

Distinguished Service Award, The Chicago Sun-Times and Junior Chamber of Commerce, January, 1950

The Coveted "Old Gold Goblet" Award, DePauw University, 1951 (For Distinguished Service as an Alumnus, given to only one Alumnus annually)

Centennial Distinguished Citizen Award, Centennial Convocation, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, December 2, 1951

Distinguished Merit Award for 1950, Decalogue Society of Lawyers, Chicago, March 3, 1951

Social action Churchmanship Award of the Congregational Christian Churches of New Haven Conference, 1954

Jesuit Centennial Award as One of One Hundred Outstanding Chicagoans, December 12, 1957

Layman of the Year Award, Church federation of Greater Chicago, April 23, 1964

Annual Silver Plaque Award, National Conference of Christians and Jews, Chicago, May 27, 1965

Founder's Day Award, Loyola University, Chicago, October 31, 1967

Merit Award of the Chicago Technical Societies Council, Chicago, November 14, 1967

Chemical Pioneer Award, American Institute of Chemists, Atlanta, May 11, 1968

Citation from the Mennonite Hospital, Bloomington, Illinois for Outstanding Contributions and Services to Mankind, January 24, 1970

Elected as a Laureate in the Lincoln Academy, Springfield, Illinois, May 20, 1972

MacMurray Collede's Chemistry Building named the Percy Lavon Julian Hall of Chemistry, May 13, 1972 (Jacksonville, Illinois)

Coppin State College's Percy L. Julian Science Classroom Building dedicated May 3, 1968 (Baltimore, Maryland)

Illinois State University, Normal, Illinois--Percy Julian Hall, dedicated October 26, 1975

Learned Societies:

Fellow, American Institute of Chemists

Fellow, Chemical Society of London

Fellow, New Your Academy of Science

Member, American Chemical Society

Laureate, Lincoln Academy, Springfield, Illinois, May 20, 1972

Member, American Association for the Advancement of Science

Honorary Member, Illinois State Academy of Sciences (elected 4/19/75)

Educational, Religious and Civic Activities

Member, Board of Trustees, DePauw University, Greencastle, Indiana

Member, Board of Trustees, Roosevelt University, Chicago, Illinois

Member, Board of Directors, Chicago Theological Seminary

Member, Board of Trustees, Southern Union College, Wadley, Alabama

Member, Board of Governor, International House (University of Chicago)

Member, Phi Beta Kappa Associates

Member, Board of Directors, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund

Vice President, Business Advisory Council of the Chicago Urban League

Chairman, Commonwealth Edison Environmental Advisory Council

Co-Chairman, National Negro Business and Professional Committee of the Legal Defense and Educational Fund

Emeritus Member, Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees, Howard University, Washington, D.C.

Emeritus Member, Board of Trustees, Fisk University, Nashville, Tennessee

Past Member, Board of Regents, State of Illinois Colleges and Universities

Past Consultant, National Institute of Arthritis and Metabolic Diseases, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland

Past Member, Board of Directors, Fund for the Republic - Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions

Retired Member, Executive Board, Chicago Chapter, National Conference of Christians and Jews

Past President, Phi Beta Kappa[a Association of Greater Chicago

Past Director, Mental Health Association of Greater Chicago

Past Member, Illinois Advisory Committee, Commission on Civil Rights

Past Chairman of the Council for Social Action, Congregational Christian Churches of America (Now United Church of Christ)

Retired Deacon and Retired Trustee, First Congregational Church of Oak Park

Past President, Rotary Club of Franklin Park, Illinois

Past Member, Board of Public Welfare Commissioners of the State of Illinois

Past Director, Provident Hospital, Chicago

Past Director, The Mandel Clinic, Chicago

Past Director, The Chicago Urban League

Past Secretary, Troop 8 Boy Scouts of America, Oak Park

Past Member, Midwest Regional Advisory Committee of the Institute of International Education

Century Member, Thatcher Woods Council, Boy Scouts of America Black Heritage Series, the Percy Lavon Julian stamp, was designed by Higgins Bond of Teaneck, New Jersey."


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