1. Norbert Rillieux (1806-1894)
Sugar Processing Evaporator
Norbert Rillieux was born the son of a wealthy, white New
Orleans plantation owner and his black slave mistress. At
Norbert's birth, his father had the choice of declaring him free
or, as was the custom in such instances, a slave.
Thankfully for Norbert, his father broke tradition and made him
free, entitling him to education and privileges usually reserved
for entirely white people. Growing up, he took great interest in
the workings of the plantation and witnessed the inefficiency of
the sugar-making process and the brutal labor that slaves
endured in it.
Sugar cane juice was heated in a series of open kettles and
pans called the "Jamaica Train," where slaves poured juice
from container to container with long-handled ladles. The work
was hard, hot and dangerous.
Studying engineering in Paris, Rillieux learned that the boiling
point of liquids is reduced as atmospheric pressure is reduced.
This made Rillieux think that the evaporation of sugar on his
father's plantation could be done more efficiently if the cane
juice was heated in a vacuum. He also thought that the steam
from one vessel could be used to heat the juice in the next
The invention he came up with and patented -- the multiple
effect pan evaporator -- was a great success. Not only did it
make better sugar, but it saved countless workers around the
world from working in highly dangerous conditions.
In 2004, Mr Rillieux was entered
posthumorously into the National Inventors
Hall Of Fame