Austin African American Firefighters Association


 Percy Lavon Julian

PERCY L. JULIAN - Firefighting Foam Inventor


Percy Julian synthesized physostigmine for treatment of glaucoma and cortisone for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. Percy Julian is also noted for a fire-extinguishing foam for gasoline and oil fires.

Born in Montgomery, Alabama and one of six children, Percy Julian had little schooling. At that time, Montgomery provided limited public education for Blacks. However, Percy Julian entered DePauw University as a "sub-freshman" and graduated in 1920 as class valedictorian. Percy Julian then taught chemistry at Fisk University, and in 1923, earned a master’s degree from Harvard University. In 1931, Percy Julian received his Ph.D. from the University of Vienna.

Percy Julian returned to DePauw University, where his reputation was established in 1935 by synthesizing physostigmine from the calabar bean. Percy Julian went on to become director of research at the Glidden Company, a paint and varnish manufacturer. He developed a process for isolating and preparing soy bean protein, which could be used to coat and size paper, to create cold water paints, and to size textiles. During World War II, Percy Julian used a soy protein to produce AeroFoam, which suffocates gasoline and oil fires.

Percy Julian was noted most for his synthesis of cortisone from soy beans, used in treating rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory conditions. His synthesis reduced the price of cortisone. Percy Julian was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1990.

Dr. Percy Lavon Julian was born on April 11, 1899, and died on April l9, 1975.

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Rodney Slater had this to say about Percy Julian:

 "Those who had earlier sought to keep their slaves in chains were well aware of the threat education posed to their ‘peculiar’ institution. Consider what happened to the grandfather of Dr. Percy Julian, the great Black research chemist who, over his lifetime, was awarded 105 patents--among them a treatment for glaucoma and a low-cost process to produce cortisone. When Percy Julian decided to leave Alabama to go to college in Indiana, his entire family came to see him off at the train station, including his ninety-nine year old grandmother, a former slave. His grandfather was also there. His grandfather’s right hand was two fingers short. His fingers had been cut off for violating the code forbidding slaves to learn to read and write."

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