Spreading Good News (Post 588 – BLACK HISTORY TUESDAY: Norbert Rillieux, African American sugar-refining pioneer)

The goal of Spreading Good News is for readers to:

GET INSPIRED and/or GET MOTIVATED and/or GET INFORMED and/or GET AWE-STRUCK and/or GET A BREAK FROM ALL THE NEGATIVE NEWS and to tell readers about our good, short books and our online store.













We all should know more about the contributions that African-Americans have made in the fields of science and medicine, as well as art, music, the written word, sports, and just-everyday life.

“Black History Month,” (February) is over, but I will continue Spreading Good News about Black History on what I will call “Black History Tuesday.”

I hope you enjoy this piece!

BLACK HISTORY TUESDAY:  Norbert RillieuxAfrican American sugar-refining pioneer


Norbert Rillieux was a brilliant student of thermodynamics who became famous for devising evaporators for sugar cane, revolutionizing the sugar-refining industry and easing the labor of slaves.

Born free on March 17, 1806, on a New Orleans plantation to Vincent Rillieux (the white plantation owner), a prosperous engineer and inventor of a steam-operated cotton baler, and his slave wife (a placée* – see below), Constance Vivant, Norbert was baptized at the St. Louis Cathedral in the Latin Quarter.  Exceptionally privileged for a Southern Negro of his day, he was educated at Catholic Schools, then at L’Ecole Centrale in Paris.

In 1830, Rillieux’s skill in engineering brought him a teaching post in applied mechanics at his Paris alma mater.  That same year he published his findings on the applicability of steam economy to industry, and began working on the problem of evaporating moisture from cane juice while lowering heat to produce a whiter, more refined, sugar crystal.  At the same time that he evolved the basic machinery, he created lunettes, which are glass chambers through which the technician could observe the process, a catchall for preventing sugar from escaping from one pan to another, and cast-iron vessels to replace costlier copper containers.

Ten years after beginning work, Rillieux tested his multi-effect vacuum evaporating chamber, a bulky locomotive-sized apparatus containing a network of condensing coils for evaporating raw cane juice.  A secondary advantage to the internal coils was the use of vapor from the first stage of the process as the heat source for the rest of the procedure.  By removing intense human labor and increasing fuel economy, the device improved the product, increased the rate of production, and cut expenses and the cost of sugar.  He patented the device in 1843, but for two years he found no investor for his system.  Rillieux ultimately found a prospective client and tinkered with his system for over two years before turning out a suitable product.  After the system was permanently installed in 1846, he obtained a patent on modifications.

Rillieux’s evaporators, which quickly gained popularity in the sugar industry, were used at Myrtle Grove Plantation, Louisiana, and thousands of other plantations throughout the Southeastern United States, Mexico, and the Caribbean. Eventually, refined sugar crystals, which were a specialty item, became an ordinary commodity for which refiners found increasing markets.  As a result, the demand for slave labor increased the price of field hands to $5,000 each.  Rillieux received an offer to head Edmund Forstall’s New Orleans sugar factory, but upon Rillieux’s return to the United States, he resigned over a quarrel between Forstall and Rillieux’s father.

After Rillieux’s evaporation system reached European markets, he began applying the concept to sugar beets, thereby lessening the cost factor in sugar production. Ultimately, the process was applied to all industrial evaporation processes, including the making of condensed milk, gelatin, soap, glue, whisky, and other products, and the recycling of wastes from paper mills.

As a means of reducing yellow fever from the mosquitoes breeding in Louisiana’s lowlands and swamps, Rillieux also studied New Orleans’ sewage disposal system, but his proposal was rejected because of his race.  Subsequent systems resembling his were later instituted.  Rillieux grew depressed and bitter, believing Southerners were allowing racism to override progress.

In 1854, as the racial climate of Louisiana became more restrictive, Rillieux, in revolt against having to carry a pass, became one of many black expatriates to settle in Paris.  He returned to his old teaching job and was advanced to headmaster.  He gained a scholarship, then studied engineering, wrote articles for scientific journals, and worked on translations of Egyptian hieroglyphics.  He died October 8, 1894, in Paris and was buried among France’s illustrious dead in Pere Lachaise Cemetery, leaving behind considerable wealth to his wife Emily Rillieux. Around 1930, the Dutch began a push to honor Norbert Rillieux.  From their effort came a bronze plaque at the Louisiana State Museum.

On May 1, 2004, in Akron, Ohio, Rillieux was inducted into the National Inventors’ Hall of Fame for automating and improving the efficiency of modern sugar production.  His process helped the United States become one of the major sugar-producing countries in the world.

* Plaçage was a recognized extralegal system in which white French and Spanish and later Creole men entered into the equivalent of common-law marriages with women of African, Indian, and white (European) Creole descent.  The term comes from the French placer meaning “to place with.”  The women were not legally recognized as wives, but were known as placées.  Their relationships were recognized among the free people of color as marriages de la main gauche or “left-handed marriages.”  Many were often quarteronnes or quadroons, the offspring of a European and a mulatto, but plaçage did occur between whites and mulattoes and blacks.  The system flourished throughout the French and Spanish colonial periods, and apparently reached its zenith during the latter, between 1769 and 1803.  It was not limited to Louisiana, but also flourished in the cities of Natchez and Biloxi, Mississippi; Mobile, Alabama; St. Augustine and Pensacola, Florida; as well as Saint-Domingue (present-day Haiti).  Plaçage, however, drew most of its fame—and notoriety—from its open application in New Orleans.  Despite the prevalence of interracial encounters in the colony, not all Creole women of color were or became placées.

Learn more about the plaçage system at this link:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pla%C3%A7age


What are your thoughts on this piece?


NOTE FROM JOYCEIf you enjoyed and/or learned from this blog, please leave a comment and send the link to others.  Thanks!!

If you’re interested in reading all about “My Breast Cancer Journey,” those posts start with post #334.


~ Joyce Fields



Joyce is an author who has written seven books.  If you enjoy this blog, you will, undoubtedly, enjoy all her books.  Her sister, Anita, is also an author.

BE INSPIRED!  You can read about and order their books AND order merchandise from their online store at this link (or click the “BE INSPIRED!” button above):


Thanks for your interest AND support!!

Contact Joyce at goodshortbooks@yahoo.com.



I visit these blogs and leave comments regularly.  I think you will enjoy them all!

http://www.lenasledgeblog.com  Books, reviews, give-aways, interviews.

http://living4bliss.com  Believing Life Is Set up for Success (BLISS)

http://goss-coaching.com/author/gosscoaching  A professional writer and wellness coach helping people connect thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and action to create optimal health and a vibrant life.

http://www.thebirkineffect.com  Musings of a “want it all” 21st century woman.

http://www.thesweetsensations.com  A baking, entertainment, and lifestyle blog.  Fantastic recipes and food photography, too!

http://www.pennilessparenting.com  A rich life on minimum wage.  Plus fabulous, healthful recipes!

http://www.rumpydog.com  I’m a dog with a unique perspective on human life.

http://www.davidkanigan.com/  Lead.Learn.Live.  David Kanigan:  Inspiration, Ideas & Information.

http://callingoftheheart.wordpress.com  Spirituality, Psychology, and Political.

http://www.petedenton.wordpress.com  Writer of short stories, Flash fiction, and some scripts.

About Line of Serenity (Joyce Fields)

As a thought leader for today's generation, I choose to be part of the solution and am doing things that positively impact people's lives. In addition to being a happy, married (since 1967!) woman, sister, aunt, mother, grandmother, great grandmother, I have over 40 years' experience in "Corporate America": Stenographer, Secretary, Supervisor, Analyst, Office Manager, Executive Assistant. I am also a professional proofreader and the author of 10 books (mostly non-fiction)--http://www.GoodShortBooks.com).
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