This knotty question, the puzzle of wise-hea'ds for generations, has lately been decided by Judge Blatchford, in the case of the Rumford Chemical Works vs. Lauer, a report of which we publish in another column. It appears that Prof. Eben N. Horsford, the distinguished chemist and savant, formerly of Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass., after long research and experiment, discovered a method of manufacturing the acid phosphates in such a form as to render them useful in the making of bread. There is no cereal so well suited to the wants of man as wheat. Among its mineral constituents, highly necessary to the nutrition and building-up of the human system, are phosphates of potash, lime, magnesia, and iron. But in the bolting processes employed to produce the fine white flours which the public demands, these important minerals are more or less sifted out and lost. The object of Prof. Horsford's improvements were to restore these missing ingredients to the flour, and also to furnish a more convenient and better leaven than yeast for bread making. One of Prof. Horsford's preparations consists of a fine, white, dry, acid powder, containing the necessary phosphates, which is mixed with common flour and baked in the ordinary manner. For leavening purposes, bicarbonate of soda is combined with the phosphate and the flour, and when the mass is wetted carbonic acid is liberated, which leavens the dough perfectly, thus dispensing altogether with yeast. The improvements of Prof. Horsford were duly patented, and the patents were purchased by the Bumford Chemical Works of Rhode Island. The manufacture of the phosphate preparation has become an extensive business, and other parties are now seeking to take it up. It was to restrain one of these infringers that the present suit was brought. On the part of the defense, the learned Benjamin Silliman, Jr., Professor of General and Applied Chemistry, of Yale Col-lego, George F. Barker, Professor of Physiological Chemistry and Toxicology, of Yale Medical College, Prof. Austin Flint, Jr., Prof. Charles A. Seeley, and Mr. Place, all testified in the most positive minner, that by following an old formula of the celebrated chemist, Berzelius, given in Gmelin, they had produced an acid phosphate in the form of a fine, white, dry, non-hygroscopic, homogeneous powder, capable of evolving carbonic acid and producing phosphate of soda in its reaction with bicarbonate of soda, and otherwise presenting all the properties of the article described in the plaintiffs patent. These witnesses had repeatedly tried the formula and they exhibited specimens of the powders thus produced. One of the witnesses, Prof. Seeley, testified that when the formula of Berzelius was intelligently followed it was impossible to produce any other substance. On the other hand, the distinguished Prof. R. Ogden Doremus, of the Medical Societies in this city, testified for the plaintiff, that the formula of Berzelius does not contain such a description as will enable him, as a practical chemist, to produce such a substance as the previous witnesses had described. He had, he said, made but one trial, which resulted in a white powder having an acid taste which soon became inert, and would not, when mixed with bicarbonate of soda, set free carbonic acid. Professor Horsford testified that he had devoted much time to the subject, but had been unable from the formula of Berzelius to produce the article described by the witnesses for the defense. The substance which he had produced was sometimes sticky, and from day to day lost its strength, until it had no capacity to decompose bicarbonate of soda. Here was a marked disagreement in the testimony of the learned doctors; but it does not seem to have troubled Judge Blatchford very much. He decided the matter readily, and at the same time gave the learned professors a very useful lesson in practical chemistry, by advising them to make their acid solutions a little stronger, when they would probably be able to produce the substance described by the savans of Yale. Although this trial has resulted adversely, in part, to the very broad claims set up by the Rumford Chemical Works, it will not in any manner interfere with the continued manufacture of their excellent phosphoric acid preparations, which are made under the personal supervision of Prof. Horsford. If in point of law he is not the original discoverer of the acid phosphate powders, he is undoubtedly the first to develop a method of making them commercially available, and thus to put the public in possession of a valuable article, the use of which is of great importance as a constituent of food. The celebrated Liebig has stated that the nutritive value of ordinary flour is increased ten per cent by the use of Professor Horsford's phosphatic bread preparations.
This article was originally published with the title "When Doctors disagree Who shall Decide?" in Scientific American 21, 7, 105-106 (August 1869)