Percy Lavon Julian

Born- April 11 1899, Died- April 19 1975 By: Sunny S.

Family Information and Nationality

Percy Lavon Julian was born in Montgomery Alabama to James Summer Julian and Elizabeth Lena Adam making him American. He was the oldest of his five other siblings and his grandfather was a former slave. His grandfather was missing two fingers from one of his hands because he had learned to write and as punishment they were cut off when he was a slave, but luckily the Thirteenth Amendment freed him from his bonds. His family was better off than other black families in his time since his father, James, was a railway mail clerk. His father loved reading, mathematics, and philosophy and deemed education very important. The Julian family also had strong faith in God and this made Percy want to pursue a higher education. This picture shows Montgomery in 1906.


After graduating from Stuart in 1916 he was offered to go to DePauw in Greencastle as a sub-freshmen. In 1920 Julian graduates as class valedictorian with a degree in chemistry. Due to racial issues, Julian was discouraged to seek admission to a graduate school. So instead, he taught chemistry at Fisk University, a black college. After two years at Fisk Julian started attending Harvard and studied under Elmer P. Kohler and got his masters degree in 1923. Due to the white students, Harvard removed Julian's teaching assistantship and made him incapable of getting his Ph.D. Disappointed, Julian took a teaching position at West Virginia Collegiate Institute for a short period and then served at Howard University as the head of the Department of Chemistry. In 1929, he received a grant and was given an opportunity to earn his doctorate degree. Since Julian was fascinated by chemistry of natural products, he chose to plant alkaloid chemistry at the University of Vienna. Späth, his critical professor, described him in these words:

"Ein ausserordentlicher Student, wie ich ihn in meiner Laufbahn als Lehrer nemals hatte"

Which means, "An extraordinary student, his like I have not seen before in my career as a teacher". In 1931 he returns to Harvard University after receiving his Ph.D. Then, he was forced to leave in two years, due to internal politics. Julian returned to DePauw in 1933 to teach organic chemistry as a senior course.

Contributions to Science

Julian and Pikl, his partner, synthesized physostigmine and published 5 research papers on it. When he was about to send his 4th paper to be edited, Sir Robert Robinson published a paper on the same topic. When Julian read his paper he found an error and was so confident in his research that he corrects Robinson's work in his paper and publishes it. If he and Pikl were wrong then their scientific careers would come to an end, so they wrote a fifth paper, "The Complete Synthesis of Physostigmine", to prove themselves correct. This paper received worldwide notice. Julian solved many problems surrounding soybean oil processing, developed many products. He made the dream of a protein plant producing 40 tons of protein daily become a reality by figuring out how to isolate the proteins from soybeans. From soybean protein, Julian also made a fire-retardant foam. Julian developed a procedure to precipitate the sterols cleanly from the oil of a soy bean. Created progesterone, a female hormone, by converting soy stigmasterol. Julian patented and published a synthesis of a sterol needed to prepare cortisone, hydrocortisone and their derivatives. His research made it possible to make a lot of cortisone to treat arthritis and other inflammatory conditions. His synthesis of cortisone reduced prices from hundreds for a drop to pennies for a gram.

Famous Quote

"Ein ausserordentlicher Student, wie ich ihn in meiner Laufbahn als Lehrer nemals hatte (An extraordinary student, his like I have not seen before in my career as a teacher).

-Ernst Späth


  • He received the Austin Fellowship in Chemistry after two years at Fisk University.
  • In 1950 he was named Chicagoan of the Year.
  • The town of Oak Park celebrate Julian's birthday as a holiday.
  • Julian has a middle school in Oak Park named after him.
  • Julian had more than 100 chemical patents
  • In 1993, the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative stamp in his honor.
  • 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, 1964Annual 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

Bibliography (MLA)

Kenar, James. "Percy Lavon Julian (1899-1975)." The AOCS Lipid Library. National Center for Agricultural Utilization, 15 Jan. 2010. Web. 06 Feb. 2013.

"Percy Lavon Julian." Hall of Fame Inventor Profile. National Inventors Hall of Fame, 2002. Web. 06 Feb. 2013.

"Percy Lavon Julian." Percy Lavon Julian. National Acadamy of Science, 2005. Web. 06 Feb. 2013.

"The Life of Percy Lavon Julian '20." DePauw University. DePauw University, 19 Feb. 2009. Web. 06 Feb. 2013.