Friday, February 15, 2019

Day 15 - Norbert Rillieux - Sugar Man

Norbert Rillieux

       1806 - 1894

Who Was He?

Norbert Rillieux was born to a plantation owner and a free person of color in New Orleans. I learned a new term researching this man. His mother was a plaçage. This means that even thought inter-racial marriage was illegal, Norbert's parents were as married as was possible to be. Vincent Rillieux not only claimed his son but helped take care of him.

Side Note: Lousiana was a weird mixture of people in the antebellum south. There were all sorts of categories of black folks from enslaved to free. There was a subculture of wealthy people of color who had influence and some acceptance. 

Back to our subject.

Norbert was a Creole of color with a rich father. That meant he had more privileges than less affluent people of color. He was baptized Catholic and attended Catholic schools.

Rillieux was a smart kid, and his inventiveness was easy to see. His father decided to send him to France to study.

In the early 1820s, Norbert went to Ecole Centrale Paris, one of the top engineering schools in France. He studied physics, engineering, and mechanics. While he was there, he became interested in steam.

Steam Engines Changed The World

Now, this might seem odd, but in the 1800s steam was king. It ushered in the Industrial Age.

By the age of 24, Norbert was an instructor in applied mechanics at the Ecole Centrale Paris. He had not lost his fascination with steam.

Around the 1830s, he published a series of papers on steam engines and steam power.

What Did He Invent?

Rillieux's fascination with steam led to an invention that I have been trying to figure out how to explain in words and in ways that will make sense. So, let me give it a go.

Add caption

The thing Norbert Rillieux invented is called a Multiple Effect Evaporator.

Basically, you heat something to a certain temperature and capture the steam in order to get the purest version of the thing you are heating. You burn off the impurities.
This apparatus controlled the temperature and kept it stable.

Norbert applied this apparatus to sugar. For the very first time in history, the human race got pure, refined sugar.

The quality was amazing. It was a huge improvement on the amount of labor that had been required to produce sugar, and there was very little waste in this new process. It was also way cheaper.

This invention revolutionized the sugar industry.

This evaporation process was so instrumental in changing the way industries purified things, that Norbert Rillieux has been called the world's first ever Chemical Engineer.

Rillieux became a fixture in New Orleans society after inventing the Evaporator. He started installing them in sugar plantations in Louisianna. This caused some problems.

There was no suggestion that Norbert should be housed with the enslaved people, but there was no way he could be housed in the big house with the white folks. That could not be allowed under any circumstances, so, they would build him a little house for himself.

Rillieux made a tidy fortune off of his invention, and right before the Civil War, as Ante Bellum Louisianna began to take the rights of Free People of Color away, Norbert decided America was not for him and he returned to France where he spent the rest of his life.

His Legacy?

Norbert Rillieux was the first Chemical Engineer.
A Modern Day Evaporator

His Evaporator transformed not only the sugar industry but any type of industrial process that needs to purify a product using evaporation.

 Here is the explanation of the process from a website from a company that produces these giant evaporators.

"Swenson Technology is a global leader in the design and supply of chemical process equipment for separation. We specialize in designing and installing innovative systems to convert liquid solutions into dry solids using evaporation, crystallization and drying."

Thank you Norbert Rillieux - The world's first Chemical Engineer!

Who am I kidding? This is his real legacy...

Sweet Things

Day 1 - The ABC's of Black History Month
Day 6 - Ernest Everett Just - Biologist, Zoologist, Cell man
Day 7 - Frederick McKinley Jones - The Coolest Man in Modern History
Day 8 - Sarah Goode - A Practical Bed For Small Spaces
Day 9 - William Henry Cling - Did He Invent The Hospital Bed Before Gatch?
Day 10 - Inez Beverly Prosser and Brown V.S. The Board of Education
Day 11 - Jan Ernst Mateliger - Mechanical Engineer/Sole Man
Day 12 - Samuel L. Kountz Jr. - Revolutionized Transplant Surgery
Day 13 - Lewis Howard Latimer - Incandescent Inventor
Day 14 - Marie Van Brittan Brown - Home Security
Day 15 - Norbert Rillieux - Sugar Man
Day 16 - Otis Boykin - He Kept Hearts Beating
Day 17 - Alice H. Parker - Heating It Up!
Day 18 - Lloyd Quarterman - Chemist and Atom Man
Day 19 - Robert F. Flemming Jr. - Guitar Man
Day 20 - Charles S. L. Baker - The Friction Radiator 
Day 21 - Granville T. Woods - The Black Edison
Day 22 - Alfred L. Cralle - Next Time You Have Ice Cream...
Day 23 - Ellen Elgin - Through The Wringer
Day 24 - Dr. Daniel Hale Williams - Holding A Heart In the Palm of His Hands
Day 25 - Benjamin Bradley - Steam Engine Dominance
Day 26 - Elijah McCoy - The Real One
Day 27 - Alexander Miles - Hold The Door, Please!

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