Norbert Rillieux (1806 -1894) was revolutionary in the sugar industry by inventing a refining process that reduced the time, cost, and safety risk involved in producing sugar from cane and beets. As the son of a White French planter/inventor and an African American slave mother, Norbert Rillieux was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. He viewed the methods for refining sugar from beets and cane were dangerous, crude and required backbreaking labor. The methods threatened the slaves who were required to take boiling cane juice from one scalding kettle to another to produce a dark sugar.
Rillieux designed an evaporating pan which enclosed a series of condensing coils in vacuum chambers, issued as a patent U.S. 4,879. The invention was later used by sugar manufacturer in Cuba and Mexico. Rillieux's system took much of the hand labor out of the refining process, it saved fuel because the juice boiled at lower temperatures, and the new technique produced a superior final product. The Rillieux device was patented in 1846 and was used widely on sugar plantations in Louisiana, Mexico, and the West Indies. "It was stated by Charles Brown, a chemist in the U.S. Department of Agriculture, that [Rillieux's invention of the sugar processing pan] was the greatest invention in the history of American Chemical Engineering." This collection owns two of the Rillieux sculptures.