If you do not know who Norbert Rillieux is, you are not alone. He was born in 1806 in New Orleans as a Free Man of Color and was a distant cousin to Degas. He was born a black man at a time when black men’s accomplishments were often unrecognized. He showed a talent for engineering at a young age and in 1834, he created the first practical system for crystallizing sugar liquors. Crystallization of sugar occurred prior to his invention but was slow and difficult. His method revolutionized the refining of sugar though he would suffer much rejection before getting his factory-scale pan evaporating apparatus installed in 1845. Rillieux had other grand ideas, including a drainage plan for the city of New Orleans but the legislature rejected it because of his race. Disgusted, he eventually left for France where he died in Paris in 1894.
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