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Wed, 09.03.1924

Rufus Stokes, Pioneer of Environmental Justice born

Rufus Stokes, WW II

*On this date, in 1924, Rufus Stokes was born.  He was a Black mechanic, scientist, and inventor.  Rufus Stokes grew up in the rural South and attended public school in Alabama until he was 18.

On November 5, 1940, just before receiving his high school diploma, Stokes enlisted in the US Army at Fort Benning, Georgia, in the Quartermaster Corps.  While serving, he attended a technical school and received auto mechanic training. He was deployed in Western Europe and served predominantly in the Rhineland campaign. Upon discharge, he was decorated with an American Defense Service Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, and Good Conduct Medal.  

While leaving the military, Stokes met Bessie Lee Knight, his future wife of Camp Hill, Alabama, when she was attending Tuskegee Institute. They married in 1945 and moved to Kansas City, Missouri, where Stokes was a part-time auto mechanic. In 1947, they moved to Waukegan, Illinois, where he found temporary employment as a pipe and sheet metal worker. Between late 1947 and 1949, Stokes was employed as an orderly at the Chicago Veterans Administration Hospital, specifically in the Tuberculosis Sanitarium. During this time, he first saw the negative health effects of the city's pollution.

In 1949, he left the hospital and found work at Brule Inc., an incinerator manufacturing company in Chicago. He quickly learned the combustion process and was thought to have contributed heavily to the designs of new incinerators but was never credited for his work. For that reason, he left to pursue his interests.  He later created a smaller domestic and larger mobile version of the air purification device to show its versatility. This device further reduced the ash emissions of the furnace and power plant smokestack emissions. Moreover, it was not limited by design and configuration, meaning its efficiency remained excellent regardless of industrial or residential applications. This was not true of typical air pollution control technologies, such as electrostatic precipitators, bag houses, and wet scrubbers. The larger the device that utilized these approaches, the more cumbersome and inefficient it became.

The core of Stokes' technology was a unique utilization of what he described as "the three Ts": Temperature, Time, and Turbulence. He provided only data sufficient to obtain patent approval in his applications (U.S., U.K., Germany, and Japan). Other critical processes involving physics variations were not revealed but manifest in demonstrations to municipal, state, and federal officials and engineering firms such as A.T. Kearney. In 1968, he patented the Exhaust Purifier, a 20th-century answer to environmental justice.  The ability of the APC-100 to convert particulate matter and toxic gases from burning rubber tires and other combustibles to steam was a constant source of intrigue to those who witnessed its operation.  

1982 Stokes was granted a Doctor of Science degree from Heed University in Hollywood, Florida, because of his scientific achievements.  In 1985, he moved to Claremont, California, where he died of mesothelioma, an asbestos-related disease, on June 22, 1986. His death coincided with his being brought to the Los Angeles Hyperion Wastewater Treatment facility as a consultant.  Rufus Stokes' inventions led to a direct improvement in air quality. Still, more importantly, they brought attention to the idea that scientists could work to reduce pollution and harmful gases in the atmosphere.  

He has been honored with inclusion in the United States Department of Energy's (DOE) list of "Energy Pioneers," as well as being acknowledged in the technology white paper "Quantum Parallel." His research and development papers, correspondence, and diagrams are included in archival data donated to the University of Illinois at Chicago Library by publisher/graphic artist and military aviator Eugene Winslow, a longtime friend and business colleague.  

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