Today’s Throwback Thursday walks us through major events in science history, all tied to today’s date, July 31.
On July 31, 1790, the first U.S. patent under the new U.S. patent statute, was issued to Samuel Hopkins of Vermont. Hopkins invented a process for making pot ash and pearl ashes, important as ingredients in soaps and fertilizers. The patent was signed by President George Washington, Attorney General Edmund Randolph, and Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson.
On July 31, 1800, German chemist Friedrich Wohler was born. Wohler was the first to synthesize the organic compound urea from inorganic components, a process that blew open conventional thought on how biochemical reactions could occur. Wohler was also the first to isolate the element aluminum.
Four years later, on July 31, 1804, English engraver and printer George Baxter was born. In 1935 he would patent a process of color printing that made mass reproduction of paintings.
In 1849 on this date, Benjamin Chambers was issued U.S. patent No. 6612 for the breech loading cannon. This type of cannon permitted faster reloading and more rounds fired per minute. It also protected soldiers by reducing the need to stand in front of the gun to reload.
Then, on July 31, 1859, American pathologist and microbiologist Theobald Smith was born. He became the first to link insects to the spread of disease. He discovered the causes of several infections parasitic diseases, including that of Texas Cattle Fever, which had been spread by ticks. His work would become important for other diseases such as yellow fever and malaria.
In 1918 on this day, the American chemist Paul Delos Boyer was born. In 1997 he would share the Nobel Prize in Chemistry with John Walker for their discovery of the enzymatic mechanism behind the making of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), a nucleotide responsible for transferring energy in cells.
Just one year later, on July 31, 1919, Primo Levi was born. This Italian novelist and poet was also a chemist for most of his professional life. In fact, chemistry saved his life. Levi had been imprisoned as a Jew in Auschwitz, but was granted a reprieve as a technician to work in the laboratory of a rubber factory on the camp’s grounds. He would later write on his survival of the Nazi camps, as well as on various science matters.
Then, in 1923, Stephanie Louise Kwolek was born. She was the first to discover the polymer Kevlar while working on a project for DuPont to develop strong and lightweight fibers for tires. Today, Kevlar’s applications include bicycle tires, racing sails, and body armor. It can also be used to make high impact drumheads and underwater mooring lines.