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Wilbur Scoville and the Organoleptic Test Centennial - 3 PDF Print E-mail
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Wilbur Scoville and the Organoleptic Test Centennial
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“Organoleptic” means using the sense organs for taste, color, aroma, and feel to evaluate a food or drug and Scoville's worked because the flavor was not important, just the perceived pungency. Scoville used a panel of tasters who kept sampling the mixture of chiles and sugar water until the pungency was gone. At that point the amount of dilution, such as one to fifty thousand, made gave the chile a heat level of 50,000 SHU, or Scoville Heat Units. Of course today, this tedious, expensive, and subjective test has been replaced by chromatography, but in 1912, this was breakthrough technology. As a result, Scoville's career blossomed.Scoville in 1907

In 1913, Scoville was elected second vice-chairman of the American Pharmaceutical Association and read his paper “Tincture of Cantharides and its Assay” at the annual meeting. Years later, he would be nominated as president of the association but withdrew his name because he was too busy working on revising the National Formulary. In 1918, his book Extracts and Perfumes was published. It was a pharmacology study containing hundreds of formulations. The book, published in hardcover, sold for one dollar. In 1922, Scoville won the Ebert Prize from the American Pharmaceutical Association; the prize, established in 1873, is the oldest pharmacy award in existence in the United States and is awarded to the best essay or written communication containing an original investigation of a medicinal substance in the Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences. In 1929 he received the Remington Honor Medal, the American Pharmaceutical Association's top award “to recognize distinguished service on behalf of American pharmacy during the preceding years, culminating in the past year, or during a long period of outstanding activity or fruitful achievement.” Scoville also received an honorary Doctor of Science from Columbia University the same year.

At the age of 69, Scoville retired from Parke, Davis in 1934. The company had this to say about him, probably written by Frank G. Ryan, the president, writing in Modern Pharmacy but covered in the Journal of the South Carolina Medical Association: “Three or four years ago, in the gradual development of our scientific staff, we secured the services of Professor Wilbur L. Scoville, a pharmacist well known to the country and a man preeminent in the field of what has been termed pharmaceutical elegance. Professor Scoville may well be considered an artist in questions concerning odor, flavor and appearance of galenicals. The first task assigned to Professor Scoville was to go systematically and patiently through our entire line of elixirs—regardless of what other workers had done before him, and regardless of what changes were under consideration at the time. He was given carte blanche to go ahead and suggest any modification and improvements which seemed to him necessary.”

Wilbur Lincoln Scoville died in Detroit in 1942 at the age of 77.


Anon. “Review of Standards of Flavoring Extracts, by Wilbur Scoville.” “Pharmaceutical Chemistry,”

Journal of the American Chemical Society, Vol. 25 (1903), 570.

Anon. “Professor Scoville Joins Parke, Davis and Company.” Bulletin of Pharmacy, Vol. 21. Detroit: E.G. Swift, 1907, 496.

Anon. “Westward a Star of Pharmacy Takes His Way.” The Druggists Circular, Vol 51 (December). New York: The Circular, 1907, 799.

Anon. “Elixirs Deluxe.” Journal of the South Carolina Medical Association. Volume 7 (Feb., 1911), 73-74.

Anon. “Section on Scientific Papers.” American Journal of Pharmacy, Vol. 83 (1911), 440.

Anon. “Minutes of the Section of Scientific Papers.” Journal of the American Pharmaceutical Association, 1, 1912, 1204.

Brainard, Homer Worthington. A Survey of the Scovils or Scovills in England and America: Seven Hundred Years of History and Genealogy. Privately Printed, 1915.

Lillard, Benjamin. Practical Druggist and Pharmaceutical Review of Reviews, Volumes 13-16. Lillard & Co., 1904.

Lyons, Albert Brown. Practical Standardization by Chemical Assay of Organic Drugs and Galenicals. Detroit: Nelson, Baker, 1920, 238.

Marquis, Albert Nelson. Who's Who in New England, Vol. 1. A.N. Marquis, 1909.

Scoville, Wilbur L. The Art of Compounding. Philadelphia: P. Blakiston, Son, 1895.

Scoville, Wilbur L. “Tincture of Cantharides and its Assay.” Journal of the American Pharmaceutical Association, 2, 1913, 18-22.

Scoville, Wilbur L. “Tincture of Cantharides.” National Druggist, Vol. 48, February, 1918, 57.

Worthen, Dennis B. “How Hot is Hot? Scoville’s Test for Heat of Peppers Marked an Early success for Pharmacist Research.” Pharmacy Practice News, Vol. 36:08, August, 2009, online at http://www.pharmacypracticenews.com/ViewArticle.aspx?d=Pharmacy+Heritage&d_id=206&i=August+2009&i_id=553&a_id=13683

Also Consulted:

NNDB, the Notable Names Database.

Wilbur Lincoln Scoville on Facebook.

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