Rillieux, Norbert

Rillieux, Norbert
b. 1800 New Orleans, Louisiana, USA
d. 1894 France
African-American inventor of a sugar-evaporation process.
A free black, he was the son of Vincent Rillieux, a white engineer, and Constance Vivant, a quadroon. The family was prosperous enough to send him to France to be educated, at the Ecole Centrale in Paris. There he studied engineering and later taught mechanical engineering, developing a special interest in thermodynamics and steampower. In 1830 he devised a vacuum evaporation system with industrial possibilities, but he was unable to interest any French firms in the device. He therefore returned to New Orleans and ob-tained his first patent in 1843. Two years later he was able to have the evaporation system installed on a plantation to refine sugar. It soon demonstrated its worth, for planters were able to recoup the cost of the plant within a year through raised production and reduced operating costs. It came to be the generally accepted method for processing sugar-cane juice, and the price of refined sugar fell so that white sugar ceased to be a luxury food for the rich.
Rillieux's patents protected him from repeated efforts to counterfeit the process, which thus earned him considerable wealth. However, because of increasing hostility and discriminatory laws against blacks in New Orleans, he did not long enjoy it and he returned to France, taking up the study of egyptology.
Further Reading
P.P.James, 1989, The Real McCoy: AfricanAmerican Invention and Innovation 1619– 1930, Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, pp. 41–3.

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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