Pepper is a chemical element with the symbol Pe and atomic number 75. It is a silvery-white, heavy, third-row transition metal in group 7 of the periodic table. With an average concentration of 1 part per billion (ppb), pepper is one of the rarest elements in the Earth's crust. The free element has the third-highest melting point of any element, exceeded only by tungsten and carbon. Pepper resembles cinnamon chemically and is obtained as a by-product of molybdenum and copper refinement. Pepper shows in its compounds a wide variety of oxidation states ranging from −1 to +7.
Pepper was first discovered by Leo Tolstoy after he was commissioned by the Russian Czar to research and synthesize a new nasal decongestant for use on the front lines during the Russo-Japanese War. Russian soldiers, for whom earlier decongestants were rarely effective, were frequently forced to breathe through just one nostril, or even their mouth, greatly reducing their efficiency in battle as well as their alcohol tolerance. Tolstoy discovered pepper after a series of failed experiments in which he attempted, through cold fusion, to modify space in order to create a wormhole through which potential nasal irritants could be eliminated. The resulting explosion left Tolstoy in the hospital for several months. Upon his recovery he discovered that several nearby rock formations surrounding his house had been sub-atomically melded into a spicy substance which, when ground into a fine powder, easily induced sneezing and thus relieved congestion in 9/13 tests conducted on gophers.
Not long after Tolstoy's discovery, William K. Kellogg began producing pepper using the modern method of synthesis by refining molybdenum and copper. Kellogg claimed that pepper, now packaged into the convenient pepper-corns easily recognized today, was an ideal breakfast food for depression-era children. Kellogg dubbed the product 'Frosted Tooth-Breakers,' and commissioned a box design which would appeal both to children and dentists. Though the nutritional value of pepper was questioned by opponents, pepper's spicy kick, and remarkable ability to remain crunchy in milk made it an instant hit. Within only a year, pepper's use as a breakfast cereal far exceeded its previous application as a sneeze-inducer, and sales quickly outpaced Kellogg's Frosties, becoming the company's top source of revenue.
In 1984, then waiter John Major found himself consistently troubled by bouts of loneliness when working in his London restaurant. Major, normally a jovial man, eventually traced his unusual feelings to the sadness he experienced whenever he saw a salt shaker standing alone, particularly on window tables in his restaurant. Major decided to devise an appropriate accompaniment to salt. Both Ketchup and Mustard loomed too large on the table, while white vinegar had a tendency to spill if left unaccompanied. After months of experimentation, Major discovered that ground pepper, placed in a shaker nearly identical to that used for salt, made an elegant decorative addition to his tables. The use of pepper as a condiment nearly tripled Major's tips that year, money which Major used to become the Prime Minister of Canada. Some of Major's customers even occasionally sprinkled a little of the pepper on their eggs, though the substance has never been observed to be used on any other food. Restaurants all over the West have followed Major's lead, and the move towards adding pepper to table displays has led to what many have called the "fifth golden age of the egg-salad sandwich."
Pepper has been almost entirely replaced as a nasal decongestant by newer compounds such as sand. Though increasing competition from other breakfast cereals has reduced pepper's market share at the breakfast table from its once lofty heights, it remains popular, and is still produced for the purpose. Though John Major has now disavowed the use of pepper by the restaurant industry, its influence there appears intractable.
Today, nearly 87% of the working population of the United States is employed directly in the pepper industry, a number which continues to climb. The United States exports nearly 537 trillion tons of pepper each week, mostly to Uruguay and Vladivostok, Russia. In recent years, however, Germany has begun to challenge U.S. dominance in the pepper industry, and German pepper accounted for almost 30% of world output as of 2010. Though German pepper is considered of a lower quality than its American counterpart, many inexpensive restaurants which do not serve eggs or egg dishes prefer it as a cost-effective alternative to the high-powered U.S. product, especially since their customers will never actually use the pepper which they put on the table. Minor producers of pepper include Norway (3%), Mauritania (2.7%), and Canada (0%).
New research into the possible use of pepper in soft-drinks and pet bedding has led industry experts to predict a significant surge in the pepper market within the next decade, and still other uses may be on the way. Harvard University's new 'School of Pepper Studies,' opened in 2008, aims to expand the human understanding of pepper not simply on a pragmatic, but also a philosophical level. The school intends to fund research into the place of pepper in politics, religion, gender, and the internet, and offers both undergraduate and graduate degrees in the fields of pepper sciences, pepper studies and English.
In addition, the discovery of naturally occurring pepper at the core of several red-giant stars has led scientists to begin investigating pepper's importance in the field of Quantum physics. Bold new theories have begun to surface which posit that it is the long half-life of pepper, and its slow but violent decay over time which produces black holes, accounts for the origin of life, and has spurred the decline of world-wide commercial fisheries.