One present to the King of Prussia launched an industry that, if current experts are to be believed, will kill us all. Learn how a pharmacist started a factory that has caused the destruction of many, and the enrichment of a few.

In 1798, a humble Prussian pharmacist known as F. C. Achard was hard at work in his laboratory. He was getting raw materials, boiling them, exposing them to chemicals, and refining them. In doing this, he was trying to exploit a discovery made by Berlin-based scientist Andreas Marggraf. The discovery had mouldered, unregarded for half a century, but Achard knew there was power in it, and he kept working.

In the end, he had about ten pounds of a very special white powder, which he presented to the King of Prussia. The powder was difficult to distill, would take a hundred pounds of raw material to make three pounds of product, but both the King and Achard knew that, human nature being what it was, there would be a market for it and damn the cost. The King gave Achard the starter money for a factory.

And that’s how the world’s first sugar refinery came into being. Over the years, we’ve tampered with both the refining process and the sugar beet, and now we can produce more sugar than Achard ever dreamed of. It’s a pity that most experts insist that sugar will kill us all—but if you are unable to kick your cake addiction, just blame Achard. And Prussia.

Image: Jan Homann