"Free Man of Color"
As was Norbert Rillieux, at an early age. His father, Vincent, a wealthy engineer and inventor (and Edgar Degas's great-uncle), had designed a successful steam-operated press for making bales of cotton; it was installed in a cotton warehouse on Poydras Street. Norbert also showed an unusual aptitude for engineering. By 1830, at the age of twenty-four, the precocious Norbert was an instructor in applied mechanics at the Ecole Centrale in Paris, publishing a series of highly regarded papers on steam engines and steam power.
time around 1831, Norbert Rillieux made an extraordinary discovery, one that
transformed the sugar-refining process and contributed significantly to the
sugar boom in Louisiana. Traditionally, sugar cane juice was reduced by a
primitive and wasteful procedure called "Jamaica Train," which required
the tedious and backbreaking toil of many slaves, who, armed with long ladles,
skimmed the boiling juice from one open, steaming kettle to the next.
Various attempts had been made, with vacuum pans and horizontal coils, to harness the energy of the hot vapors rising from the boiling juice. "It remained for Rillieux," as the sugar expert George P. Meade noted, "by a stroke of genius, to enclose the condensing coils in a vacuum chamber that lowered the boiling point of the liquid and to employ the vapor from this first condensing chamber for evaporating the juice in a second chamber under higher vacuum." Rillieux cost-cutting innovation, comparable in its impact on the sugar industry to Eli Whitney's cotton gin, was the basis for all modern industrial evaporation. The sugar produced by the vacuum chamber process was superior to that obtained from open kettles.
Norbert Rillieux died when he was eighty-nine, and was buried in the cemetery of Pere La Chaise, with the inscription "Ici reposent Norbert Rellieux ingenieur civil ne a la Nouvelle Orleans 18 Mars 1806/decede a Paris le 8 Octobre 1894/Emily Cuckow, Veuve Rillieux 1827-1912." Of his widow nothing is known, except that Rillieux left her enough money to live comfortably in the province of La Manche during her final years.
"Invented the pan method of processing sugar which revolutionized the sugar industry"