The Life and Times of Percy Julian
Julian the Industrial Chemist: 1936-1947

Soybeans and Glidden: The Early Years

Percy Julian’s research at the Glidden Company in Chicago, where he began working in 1936, renewed his interest in substances that come from plants.

Julian at Glidden

Julian checking equipment in the Glidden paint and varnish plant, Chicago, Illinois, 1947. AP/Wide World Photos. Courtesy Photographs and Prints Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations.

Glidden hired Julian to find useful products that could be made from soybeans. Years before Julian became a chemist, another African American chemist named George Washington Carver had learned how to make useful things from peanuts. Now Julian would follow in Carver’s footsteps and create new products from soybeans.

Glidden’s Soya Division created a wide variety of soy-based products under Julian’s direction. One of the first was lecithin, a substance extracted from soybeans,Click to go to Activity. which was used to keep chocolate smooth and to preserve food. Another product was a fire-retardant called Aer-o-foam, made from the protein found in soybeans and widely used by the navy during World War II to fight fires on ships at sea. Julian also found dozens of other uses for soy oil and protein. Among the important uses were coatings for paper and latex paints, oils for salad dressings and shortenings, and eventually glues and plastics. Julian would register numerous patents for soybean products while he was at Glidden, and he became a pioneer in making soybeans an important crop in America.

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