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Black food chemist Lloyd Augustus Hall was born in Elgin, Illinois, in 1894. Attending high school in Aurora, IL, he was one of only five black students at his high school. Hall graduated with honors in 1912. In 1914, he graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in pharmaceutical chemistry from Northwestern University. In 1916 received a Master of Science degree from the University of Chicago. He married Myrrhene Newsome on September 23, 1919. She was a teacher from Macomb, IL. The couple had two children. Following graduation, He was offered a position by Western Electric Company through a telephone interview. However, when he showed up for his first day of work, he was told, “We don’t take niggers”. Hall then interviewed and was hired by the City of Chicago as a chemist. He would go on to work for several organizations including the U.S. government and United Nations. The majority of his 34-year career was spent at Griffith Laboratories.
Hall developed methods to keep food fresh while maintaining flavor. Many of the chemicals still used to preserve food today resulted from his pioneering research. Before his groundbreaking discoveries, food preservation was challenging, and the methods used often significantly altered the taste and flavor of foods. The most common food preservatives consisted of a mixture of sodium nitrate and sodium nitrite. This combination often made foods bitter and unpalatable. One of Hall’s most successful inventions addressed this problem. In 1932, he developed a variety of complex chemical salts that could be used as a preservative without negatively impacting the taste of food. This discovery prompted his employer at the time, Griffith Laboratories, to open a factory dedicated to producing his chemical salt compounds. He also invented processes to sterilize spices, other food materials, and pharmaceuticals still being used today. He also developed an innovative method to preserve meats known as “flash-drying”
His work pioneered the use of antioxidants. Through research and laboratory experiments, he determined that foods that contained fats and oils tended to spoil when their ingredients reacted with oxygen in the air. He pioneered the use of antioxidant chemicals such as lecithin, propyl gallate, and ascorbyl palmitate; creating a process to simplify how the substances were mixed with food to aid in preservation. At this time, it was believed that spices worked to preserve food. Hall demonstrated that certain spices like cloves, ginger, and pork powder contributed to food spoilage because they contained mold, yeast, and bacteria. Hall discovered that ethylene oxide gas (an insecticide) could also destroy food-borne microbes during his research. He utilized a vacuum sterilization process to treat the food with the gas. This process would also later be applied to pharmaceuticals, hospital equipment, and cosmetics. His discoveries revolutionized the meatpacking industry. Lloyd Hall is recognized as one of the premier food scientists of the 20th century.
He retired in 1959 and relocated to Pasadena, California. He died on January 2, 1971.
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