Norbert RillieuxRobert Norbert Rillieux (March 18,1806-October 8, 1894), an African-American inventor and engineer, was born the son of a wealthy, white New Orleans, Louisiana plantation owner and a former slave. At Norbert's birth, his father had the choice of declaring him free or, as was the custom in many such instances, a slave.
Norbert's father chose to make him free, entitling him to education and privileges usually reserved for entirely white people. Growing up, he took great interest in the workings of the plantation and witnessed the inefficiency of the sugar-making process and the brutal labor that slaves endured in it.
He is most noted for developing the process that turned sugar from a luxury to a common commodity.
Rillieux was born a free Creole of Color in New Orleans, Louisiana. He started out as a blacksmith, then became an expert machinist. He moved to Paris, where he taught applied mechanics and published papers on improved design and uses for the steam engine. For 10 years he moved back and forth from Paris to New Orleans as he worked out the details of his ideas to apply steam engine powered vacuum pump to refining sugar. Early models were found of great use in Louisiana starting in 1846, and his perfected machinery was introduced in 1854 and revolutionized the production of sugar.
Rillieux was a cousin (via a white Creole ancestor) of painter Edgar Degas.
Norbert Rillieux is buried in Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris.