Find of the Week: A sweet innovation by Norbert Rilleux

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NEW ORLEANS -- News with a Twist has teamed up with the Historic New Orleans Collection to bring you a unique find each week from the museum's vaults.

Today, it's the story of a man who changed the sugar-making process.

If cotton was king, sugar was certainly the queen, but it needs refining.

Nobert Rillieux was a profound and adept inventor born the son of a cotton planter and free woman of color in 1806.

"He was very precocious as a child and at a young age went to Paris for his education and studied engineering and became a professor of applied mechanics at age 24 and started developing a machine called the multiple effect evaporator," HNOC Assistant Editor Nick Weldon said.

He returned from France and started building building multiple effect evaporators everywhere-- making for an inexpensive sugar of higher quality.

In time, Rilloux's invention was requested all over the Carribean, from Mexico to Cuba.

Although his brain was extraordinary-- his experience was something altogether too familiar.

"Once he had a patent rejected because they thought he was an enslaved person and wasn't entitled to the rights of owning a patent," Weldon said.

Once he attempted to sweeten New Orleans' sewerage problems in order to reduce the yellow fever carried by mosquitos.

However, his proposal was rejected with many historians believing it was because of his race.

Although, coincidentally, systems resembling his first proposal were later used.

"Historians have compared what Norbert Rilleux did to the cotton gin. Everybody knows who Eli Whitney was, but not many people know who Norbert Rillieux is," Weldon said.


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