Percy Lavon Julian
April 11, 1899 - April 19, 1975
Election Year: 1973
Scientific Discipline: Physiology and Pharmacology
Membership Type: Member
Percy Lavon Julian made major contributions to the chemical industry, pioneering affordable large-scale manufacturing processes for the synthesis of human hormones and steroids and for plant sterols. His work led to the development of a number of therapeutic drugs and steroids and made treatments for glaucoma, rheumatoid arthritis, and several other diseases more affordable and available to a wider population.
Despite having been limited to an eighth-grade education in his home state of Alabama, Julian graduated as valedictorian of his class from DePauw University in 1920. He attended Harvard University, but ultimately earned his PhD from the University of Vienna in 1931. After receiving his doctorate, Julian returned to the United States and taught at Howard University for a short time before looking for positions elsewhere. Due to the racial climate of the day, Julian was rejected from more than one professorship and private-sector position for which he was qualified. Julian eventually went to work for the Glidden Company as the director of research at Glidden's Soya Products Division in Chicago. He made significant advancements for Glidden in his seventeen years with the company, but left in 1953 to establish his own research firm, Julian Laboratories. After selling Julian Laboratories, he focused his efforts on founding Julian Associates and the Julian Research Institute in 1964.