Whenever someone mentions fat, the first thing that strikes in the mind of many of us are the oversized being that some of us are, but as common as it may have become, the usage of the word is equivocally wrong. The Fat that we’re going to talk about here is one of the three main macronutrients, the other two being, protein and carbohydrate. Fats are the sources of essential fatty acids, as they provide us energy. And the fat soluble Vitamins A, D, E, and K are only soluble in our body when taken in conjunction with fats. Industrially fats are also used in the production of soap, but one of most significant discoveries was the possibility of hydrogenation of fats creating what later became known as trans-fats, which profoundly influenced the production of Margarine and Vegetable Shortening.
Wilhelm Normann born on January 16, 1870 in Petershagen, was a German chemist who introduced the hydrogenation of fats in 1901. His father, Julius Norman was the principal of an Elementary school in Petershagen. He attended a primary school and then in sixth grade was sent to Frederichs Gymnasium in Herford and then to the Royal Secondary School in Kreuznach. He graduated from school at the age of 18.
Normann started working in the Herford machine fat and oil factory in 1888, founded by his uncle Wilhelm Siveke. He started studying chemistry after running a branch of the factory in Hamburg for two years. From 1892, he continued his study in Oil Analytics at the Berlin Institute of Technology. He received his doctorate in 1900, about Beiträge zur Kenntnis der Reaktion zwischen unterchlorigsauren Salzen und primären aromatischen Aminen (“Contributions to the knowledge of the reactions of hypochlorite salts and primary aromatic amines“)
In 1901, Normann disproved Paul Sabatier’s assertion that only vaporizable organic compounds can bind catalytic hydrogen to fluid tar oils. Normann was able to transform liquid oleic acid and solid stearic acid by the use of catalytic hydrogenation with dispersed Nickel. Later on, in 27th February 1901, Normann invented what he called fat hardening, a process of creating saturated fat, which the German Imperial Office granted the patent to Leprince & Siveke Company, where he was head of the laboratory. Normann built a fat hardening facility in Warrington during the years 1905-1910, which became successful, producing over 3000 tonnes in the initial years.
Normann also filed for patents, which later got granted for two other procedures, one was for the production of mixed glycerides and the other for transesterification of fatty esters. From the years 1924 to 1927, Wilhelm Normann worked as a consultant with foreign companies.
On September 12th, 1916, Normann married Martha Uflerbäumer . He was awarded the Leibeg Medal by the German Chemical Society on the 8th of June 1922. Wilhelm Normann was an honorary doctorate in natural sciences by the faculty of natural sciences and the senate of the University of Münster on February 1939, just one month after his retirement. He died on the 1st of May in 1939, due to an illness in Chemnitz. On the 5th of May, he was buried at the family grave at the old cemetery on Hermannstrasse in Herford.