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Leaders in Innovation

2024 NIHF Inductee Jokichi Takamine: A Versatile Visionary

At the National Inventors Hall of Fame®, as we’ve honored the diverse stories of more than 600 Inductees since 1973, we’ve learned that inspiration can come from anywhere, and the path to invention is rarely a straight and narrow one. Rather, inventive journeys are often full of surprising turns.

The story of 2024 National Inventors Hall of Fame Inductee Jokichi Takamine is a great example. A biotechnology pioneer whose research led to the use of adrenaline in medicine, Takamine earned 20 U.S. patents and built an enduring legacy through a wide range of interests, industries and sources of inspiration.


A Creative Chemist

Takamine was born in Takaoka, Toyama Prefecture, Japan, on Nov. 3, 1854. He studied applied chemistry at the University of Tokyo, earning a degree in 1879, and then completed his postgraduate studies in Scotland, at the University of Glasgow and the University of Strathclyde. He later earned doctorates in chemical engineering in 1899 and pharmacology in 1906 from the University of Tokyo.

In 1887, Takamine co-founded Japan’s first chemical fertilizer manufacturer, Tokyo Artificial Fertilizer Co., which is now known as Nissan Chemical Corp. It was around this same time that he developed a process to brew whisky using koji mold. Takamine, whose mother came from a family of sake makers, was inspired by sake manufacturing to develop this new approach, which yielded a more enzymatically active substitute for barley malt in whisky brewing. It promoted faster fermentation and resulted in a more affordable product. In 1890, Takamine moved to the U.S. and began working for a distillery in Peoria, Illinois, where he applied his koji mold process to making whisky. He left the whisky business a few years later.

Takamine’s innovative path took a positive turn as he discovered another use for koji mold beyond whisky brewing. He found that the koji mold enzyme could aid the digestion of starch. This led Takamine to develop the digestive supplement Taka-Diastase, for which he earned a U.S. patent in 1894. This was perhaps the world’s first patent on a microbial enzyme, as well as the first commercially produced microbial enzyme in the U.S.

After Takamine licensed his patented Taka-Diastase enzyme preparation to Parke-Davis & Co., the company retained him as a consultant as they successfully marketed the product as a treatment for indigestion.


A Groundbreaking Discovery

With his profits from Taka-Diastase, Takamine took another fortunate turn in his inventive journey as he started a lab in Manhattan. Here, he began researching adrenal gland secretions at the suggestion of Parke-Davis.

In 1900, a chemist under his direction, Keizo Uenaka, successfully crystalized an adrenal gland secretion product from sheep glands, which Takamine called "Adrenalin®.” After a obtaining a trademark and filing patent applications covering the isolation and crystallization processes, in 1903, Takamine was granted five patents.

Adrenaline is also known as epinephrine. Today, it is used in a wide variety of applications, such as treating heart problems including cardiac arrest, respiratory problems and life-threatening allergic reactions like anaphylaxis. The EpiPen® autoinjector, a medical device invented by Inductee Sheldon Kaplan and widely used to treat anaphylaxis, contains adrenaline. Additionally, in surgery, adrenaline is combined with the local anesthetic lidocaine to extend the duration of action while reducing blood loss.


A Cultural Impact

Following Takamine’s monumental contribution to medicine, he chose to leverage his success to make a social impact and share his pride in Japanese culture.

In 1905, he established the Nippon Club — a social club for Japanese Americans and Japanese nationals in New York City. In 1912, he helped beautify the tidal basin area around the Potomac River in Washington, D.C. Takamine arranged for the shipment of several thousand cherry trees from Japan to our nation’s capital, where they’ve bloomed for more than 100 years. Each spring, the National Cherry Blossom Festival attracts crowds who appreciate these beautiful symbols of friendship between Japan and the U.S.


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