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'Rural Engineuity': West Baton Rouge Museum exhibit shows how Louisianans changed the sugar cane industry
6/21/2018 11:15:41 AM
Gay Plantation in Plaquemine

Norbert Rillieux, Allen Ramsey Wurtele and Leonard Julien had two things in common.

They all were from south Louisiana, and their inventions forever changed the sugar cane industry.

The three men anchor the West Baton Rouge Museum's new "Rural Engineuity" exhibit, which runs through Aug. 5 andhighlights the innovations and people who transformed sugar cane farming and processing in the rural south.

"These men were really just trying to improve their own situations," says Elizabeth Brantley, curator of collections. "They did it out of necessity, and the industry is still using variations of these ideas today."

The show also highlights the history of the sugar cane industry with artifacts from plantations and mills, specifically Cinclare Plantation, which operated its sugar mill in West Baton Rouge Parish from 1897 until 2005. It was the parish's last sugar mill.

But the meat of this show is told through Rillieux, Wurtele and Julien.

Rillieux, who was born a free man of color in New Orleans in 1806, revolutionized the industry with his invention that made processing sugar from the cane faster, more efficient and safer. He patented his multiple effects evaporator in 1864.

"It became the basis for modern industrial evaporator systems," Brantley says.

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