Although Norbert Rillieux was born to a slave mother in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1806; his father was a wealthy White engineer involved in the cotton industry. He is credited with revolutionizing the sugar refining industry by improving efficiency, quality and safety. Read on
In 1833, Rillieux was approached by a New Orleans sugar manufacturer named Edmund Forstall. Because numerous sugar producers had received complaints about product quality, Forstall persuaded Norbert to become the Chief Engineer of the Louisiana Sugar Refinery. Unfortunately, almost as soon as Norbert took the job, an intense feud developed between Forstall and his father, Vincent Rillieux. Out of loyalty to his father, Norbert left his position with the company. A few years later, Norbert was hired by Theodore Packwood to improve his Myrtle Grove Plantation refinery. In doing so he employed his triple evaporation pan system which he patented in 1843. It was an enormous success and revolutionized the sugar refining industry improving efficiency, quality and safety.
In the 1850s, New Orleans was suffering from an outbreak of Yellow Fever, caused by disease-carrying mosquitos. Rillieux devised an elaborate plan for eliminating the outbreak by draining the swamplands surrounding the city and improving the existing sewer system, thus removing the breeding ground for the insects and therefore the ability for them to pass on the disease. Unfortunately, Edmund Forstall, Norbert’s former employer was a member of the state legislature and spoke out against the plan. Forstall was able to turn sentiment against Rillieux and the plan was rejected.
Norbert Rillieux Disgusted with the racism prevalent in the south as well as the frustration of local politics Rillieux eventually left New Orleans and moved back to France (ironically, after a number of years in which time the Yellow Fever continued to devastate New Orleans, the state legislature was forced to implement an almost identical plan introduced by white engineers.
After returning to France, Rillieux spent much of his time creating new inventions and defending his patents as well as traveling abroad. Rillieux died on October 8, 1894 and left behind a legacy of having revolutionized the sugar industry and therefore changing the way the world would eat.
Repost from Black Inventors
This Black History Month we salute Norbert Rillieux!
Tags: Norbert Rillieux, Black History Month, Black Inventors