The Hungarian who developed special food for John Glenn, the legendary American astronaut
Lajos Jókay-Ihász is also the father of aspartame, a sweetener used in beverages like Coca-Cola and interestingly, more Americans know his name than Hungarians.
He left Hungary on a horse
He was born in 1924, in Budapest, and was raised in Hathalompuszta where one of the greatest Hungarian writers, Mór Jókai was a frequent guest since the director of the local estate was his brother, Károly Jókai. He finished his studies in Pápa, in the famous Calvinist college and wanted to study agriculture in Mosonmagyaróvár to help his family around the estate but politics intervened.
During WWII the 20-year-old man wanted to save the estate and those working on it. Successfully, he managed to save the livestock from the German armed forces and rescued 30 servants out from labour service which meant death in most cases. Since he knew that for him and the Hathalompuszta estate it is all the same whether the Germans or the Russians win the war: either way there is no chance for survival. Therefore, he got on a horse and left the country.
He arrived in the United States and finished the university there. Afterwards, he worked for the Food and Container Institute for the Armed Forces in Chicago. He was responsible for
developing special food edible in space
and he was very successful in it.
Cosmonautics and Coca-Cola
He designed the food that the famous American astronaut, John Glenn ate in space. Glenn was the third man in the History of the American cosmonautics who got to space and the first one who went round planet Earth with his spaceship. Lajos Jókay-Ihász was praised for his successes, his special foods were used even later, and in the Army, they still use the so-called Jókay-Ihász menu.
He is famous not only because of helping the astronauts but also because he was part of the team who
an artificial non-saccharide sweetener used as a sugar substitute in some foods and beverages.
He never forgot where he came from. In Chicago, he established a scout team and organised the cultural life of the local Hungarians whereas financially supported the Hungarian schools in the US.
He came to Hungary for the last time in 1992 and did not forget to visit the graves of the servants in Hathalompuszta. Many of his grandchildren moved back to Hungary and through a foundation they help, for example, the students of the Calvinist secondary school of Pápa with a scholarship.
Lajos Jókay-Ihász passed away in 1993 and was buried, according to his will, in Hathalompuszta.
Featured image: Glenn entering his spacecraft, Friendship 7, before the launch of Mercury-Atlas 6 on February 20, 1962. Source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a4/Friendship_7_%28big%29.jpg