- Christopher Benfey
Rillieux, Norbert (17 March 1806–08 October 1894), inventor, chemical engineer, and first cousin of the painter Edgar Degas's mother, was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, the son of Vincent Rillieux, Jr., an engineer, and Constance Vivant, who belonged to a wealthy free black family of landowners and landlords. Vincent Rillieux, Jr., a businessman and inventor of a steam-operated press for baling cotton, was white, but Norbert and his mother belonged to the mainly Francophone and Catholic ethnic group of “free people of color” (often referred to as “Black Creoles” after the Civil War). Little is known of Norbert Rillieux's childhood from the time of his baptism in the St. Louis Cathedral of New Orleans to the time he and his brother Edmond were sent, like many other young free men of color, to France to be educated. By 1830 Norbert was an instructor in applied mechanics at the École Centrale in Paris and is reported to have published several papers on steam power....