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October 10, 2013

United States

Louisiana/History—How a Rubber Boot Transformed the Shrimp Processing Industry


In the United States before 1949, all shrimp peeling, washing, deveining and grading was done manually.  But all that began to change when 17-year-old J.M. Lapeyre accepted a challenge from his father, who owned a processing plant in Louisiana, to design an automated shrimp peeler.


So began the process to create an automated shrimp-peeling machine that would eventually revolutionize the industry.


“I got my original idea, believe it or not, in church,” Lapeyre said in a 1982 television interview.  “When I was supposed to be praying, I was thinking about how to get the shrimp out of the shell because my father had said that, ‘if you want to make a lot of money, invent a shrimp-peeling machine,’ and I thought, ‘why not squeeze them out of the shell?’  And so when I got down to the plant the next time, I began to step just to the side of the shrimp with my rubber boots to see if I could...squeeze the meat from the shell.  And it worked.”


Research and innovation took Lapeyre to his mother’s washing machine, which used rubber rollers to squeeze water out of the clothes after the wash cycle.  After adding running water and a mechanical pressure feed to the machine, he hit the jackpot when he discovered his invention produced a “pinch and release” effect with no damage to the shrimp.


In 1949, Lapeyre founded Laitram Machinery, Inc., in Harahan, Louisiana, to manufacture and sell the first automatic shrimp peeling machine, and in 1951, he patented the invention, which is the same design leased around the world today.


Lapeyre, who died in 1989, completely transformed the industry, and the effects of his ingenious idea were especially felt on the Gulf Coast.  His machine could peel shrimp of any size, including the small ones that were usually passed over by factory workers.


Jonathan McLendon, vice president of Biloxi Freezing and Processing, says the advanced technology incorporated into Laitram Machinery’s design currently allows his company to process more than 100,000 pounds of shrimp daily.  An automated computer system controlled by laser beams feeds the shrimp into the peeler.  McLendon said.  “What Lapeyre came up with by using the soft rubber rollers that were on his mother’s old-fashioned washing machine is a design still used around the world today.   Obviously, the technology has much improved since then, but we still use a series of long, soft rubber rollers to peel the shrimp, and the basic design of the peeling machine remains unchanged.”


Source:  How a Rubber Boot Transformed Shrimp Processing.  October 8, 2013.


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