Friday 29 July 2016

Men of Yore: Hippolyte Mege-Mouries

This is another in a series of posts about men from history who have either achieved great things in one form or another by pushing boundaries: either in themselves or in society or science or exploration of some form. Boundary pushing and growth is what men do, it's their nature: to grow and push outwards. We, as men, are the frontiers men, the first to discover/uncover new territory, in a metaphysical sense (i.e. including both material and the immaterial) that is later colonised and 'civilised' by the rest of humanity.

Hippolyte Mege-Mouries (Source)

Hippolyte Mège-Mouriès (Draguignan 24 October 1817 – Paris 31 May 1880) was a French chemist and the inventor of margarine.
He was born as Hippolyte Mège, the son of a primary school teacher, but later added his mother's surname to his own. In 1838, Mège obtained a job in the central pharmacy of the Hôtel-Dieu hospital in Paris and started to publish original contributions in applied chemistry.
Mège focussed on fat processing in the 1860s, which culminated in 1869 in a patent for margarine. His invention involved mixing processed beef tallow with skimmed milk, and resulted in a cheap but qualitatively good substitute for butter 'for the working class and incidentally the Navy'. Mège received a prize from the French government, formally led by Emperor Louis Napoleon III. In 1871, Mège sold his invention to the Dutch firm Jurgens, one of the pillars of Unilever.
Okay, a quick survey of hands.  Hands up if you use margarine?
[Performs a quick count] Lots of you then.

Keep your hand up if you've heard of Hipployte Mege-Mouries?
[Has a butchers] Not so many that time around.

Bonus question: Hands up if you even knew that Hippolyte was a name?!
[Has another look]

Oh.. more of you than I thought..  [embarrassed shuffle] It must just be me then who's never heard the name before.  Ahem..

So, now you know the name of the man who invented margarine, even if you don't know anything about him, other than a handful of basic facts:
- he was French,
- he lived in the 1800s,
- and he had a moustache..

Oh well, I suppose a name's better than nothing.  I suppose it gives you some kind of connection to the fact that margarine was invented, magicked out of thin air, created ex-nihlo as they say, by a man; and so it ceases to be just an impersonal 'thing'.  It's become an object connected to humanity in it's own little way.

P.S. Even the French wikipedia entry wasn't any more extensive.  'Slim pickings' this week (Is that the name of a cowboy from the John Wayne era, or am I losing it?)