100 Greatest Science Inventions of All Time

By Kendall Haven | Go to book overview

Pasteurization
Year of Invention: 1858

What Is It? A process of killing bacteria in food by heating.

Who Invented It? Louis Pasteur (in Paris, France)


Why Is This Invention One of the 100 Greatest?

Wine, beer, milk, yogurt, and other liquid foods naturally have a short shelf life. That is, they sour, curdle, and rot after only a short time.

Then Louis Pasteur invented the process of pasteurization. Pasteurization provided a safe food supply. The dairy, wine, and beer industries grew from small, local operations into giant, international concerns. Pasteurization has been called one of the most famous and useful industrial processes ever invented and has saved millions of lives by preventing the spread of micro-bacterial diseases.


History of the Invention

What Did People Do Before?

Cow’s and goat’s milk had always been drunk fresh. The consumer had to be near the animal because milk soured and spoiled in a day or two. Wine and beer making were also very uncertain processes, and the products soured into undrinkable waste more often than not. Wine was traditionally made at monasteries by monks. When the process worked, they produced wine. When it failed—as it often did—they produced bitter vinegar.


How Was Pasteurization Invented?

In 1856,34-year-old Louis Pasteur began his fourth year as the Head of Sciences at the University of Lille in France. He was supposed to be down in his second-floor office preparing university budgets and program plans. But at heart Pasteur was a pure research chemist. He had found a small, abandoned room in the attic and commandeered it for a laboratory. To the university’s dismay, he spent more time in that cramped attic nook than in his spacious, carpeted second-floor director’s office.

In the fall of that year, Maurice D’Argineau, a local businessman, found Pasteur in his cramped corner lab. D’Argineau’s consistent failure to make wine from his fields of sugar beets without it going sour was driving him to financial ruin. Could Pasteur please do something to save him?

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