Development of baking powder receives historical recognition

The discovery of baking powder – which made baking easier, quicker and more reliable – will be designated a National Historic Chemical Landmark in a special ceremony on June 12 in East Providence, Rhode Island. The American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society, sponsors the Landmarks program.

In the mid-19th century, Eben Horsford, a chemist at Harvard University, devised a unique mixture of bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) and calcium acid phosphate, which he named "yeast powder" and later called baking powder. In the presence of water, the mixture releases carbon dioxide, which leavens biscuits, cookies and quick breads. To prevent a premature chemical reaction, Horsford introduced starch to keep the mixture dry.

Horsford and his business partner, George Wilson, established the Rumford Chemical Works in Rhode Island to market baking powder. Rumford Baking Powder was marketed for decades using the formula first devised by Horsford in the 1850s and refined in the 1860s.

E. Ann Nalley, Ph.D., President of the ACS, will present a commemorative bronze plaque to Nancy Moore, president of the East Providence Historical Society, sponsor of the designation ceremony, and Colin Kane of Peregrine LLC, a real estate firm that is restoring the old Rumford Chemical Works.

Eben Norton Horsford was born in upstate New York in 1818 and educated at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He received his formal education in chemistry in Germany, where he studied for two years with the noted chemist, Justus von Liebig. In 1847 he returned to the United States to assume the Rumford Professorship at Harvard, a chair endowed by Benjamin Thompson, a physicist who fled the American Revolution who eventually became Count Rumford of the Holy Roman Empire. When Horsford and Wilson began their chemical plant, Horsford chose the name Rumford, after his Harvard chair.


The American Chemical Society -- the world's largest scientific society -- is a nonprofit organization chartered by the U.S. Congress and a global leader in providing access to chemistry-related research through its multiple databases, peer-reviewed journals and scientific conferences. Its main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio.

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Apr 2016
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