Percy Lavon Julian
Julian was born in Montgomery, Alabama. His grandfather was a slave and Julian grew up in the time of Jim Crow. One of his childhood memories was finding a lynched man hung on a tree in the woods near his home. While studying for his undergraduate at Depauw University, he could not live in college dormitories due to segregationist policies. Yet in 1920, Julian graduated as valedictorian of his class and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. He sought to pursue a doctorate degree but his fellowship at Harvard University was withdrawn so that he could only complete his masters at Harvard in 1923. He taught at Howard University where he was later appointed head of the Chemistry department. Julian later completed his PhD at the University of Vienna in 1930 through a fellowship from the Rockefeller Foundation. He was one of the first African Americans to earn a PhD in Chemistry.
After his doctorate, Julian returned to Howard University as faculty and then moved to DePauw for a research fellowship. His collaborative research at DePauw resulted in the synthesis of physostigmine, a treatment for glaucoma, from sterols from the calabar bean in 1935. After he was refused a teaching position at DePauw, Julian moved to industry where he also faced racism in securing a position. In 1936, Julian was appointed assistant director of research of the paint and varnish manufacturer's Soya Products Division of Glidden Company where he later advanced to director. Some of his patents and products for Glidden include: a commercial-scale process for isolating and processing soya bean protein to coat and size paper, size textiles and make paint; a soy protein foam know as the U.S. Navy's "bean soup" for extinguishing fires on aircraft carriers; and commercial-scale processes for synthesizing progesterone, testosterone and cortisone. Due to his work, the price of cortisone reduced from hundreds of dollars per drop to a few cents per gram!
In 1953, he founded Julian Laboratories and later established a nonprofit research institute. Julian received many awards and honors including 19 honorary doctorates, election to the National Inventors Hall of Fame, and renaming of a street in Greencastle to Percy Julian Drive. Julian passed away in 1975 after a battle with liver cancer.