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Thu, 12.10.1846

A Black Man Patents The Sugar Evaporator

copy of blueprint patent

On this date in 1846, Norbert Rillieux, a Black inventor and engineer, patented his revolutionary improvement in the cultivation and processing of sugar.  His patent number was #4879

Before his invention, sugar was an expensive luxury, used only on special occasions. The process used to make sugar, known as the Jamaica Train, was a slow, dangerous, and expensive task, usually performed by slaves. They would work over open, boiling kettles, ladling sugarcane juice from one container to another. A large number of workers were scalded to death and others received terrible burns. The final product of this process was a dark thick syrupy substance, resembling caramel rather than the granulated form known today. The syrupy sugar was poured into cones to dry and was bought and sold in this condition.

His evaporation process made it possible for the United States to dominate the world market and this process is still used for things like freeze-drying food, pigments, and other industrial products.


James M. Brodie, Created Equal: The Lives and Ideas of Black American Innovators, University of Michigan Press, 1993. Copyright 1993, by Bill Adler Books, Inc.
William Morrow and Co. Inc., New York
ISBN 0-688-11536-5

Carl W. Pursell, A Hammer in Their Hands:
A Documentary History of Technology and the African American Experience MIT Press. 2005

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