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Bicentenary of Nicolas Leblanc

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    AMONG the world's benefactors whose discoveries have been ill-requited by their fellows was the French surgeon and chemist, Nicolas Leblanc, who was born at Ivry-de-Pre in the Departement of Cher on December 6, 1742. Though of poor middle-class parents, he was able to study medicine at the College de France and ultimately became surgeon to the unfortunate Louis-Philippe-Joseph, Duke of Orleans. In 1775 the Paris Academy of Sciences offered a prize of 2,400 livres for a practical process of producing soda from common salt. By 1787 Leblanc had solved the problem, and through the generosity of the Duke was enabled, with Dize, to erect a factory at St. Denis, and in 1791 a patent was granted him. In 1793, however, the Duke fell beneath the guillotine, and the factory was confiscated. Though in later years the factory was restored to Leblanc, together with a small monetary recompense, it was all in vain. Leblanc struggled hard against his misfortunes, but at the age of sixty-three his mind gave way and on January 16, 1806, he committed suicide. His process, however, gradually came into use and in 1883 Dumas, speaking to the Paris Academy of Sciences, said that the annual consumption of carbonate of soda in Europe and America, produced by Leblanc's process, was then estimated at between 700,000,000 and 800,000,000 kgm. In spite of this, little was known of the discoverer. Four years after Dumas spoke, a bronze statue of Leblanc was erected in the forecourt of the Conservatoire des Arts et Metiers in Paris.

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