Before technology became a major asset to the shrimp processing industry in 1949, all shrimp peeling, washing, deveining and grading was done manually. In many cases, it was a long day of tedious and exhausting work for entire families. While men were dragging nets along the Gulf waters for fresh catch, women and children were in canning factories peeling shrimp by hand.
All that began to change after 17-year-old J.M. Lapeyre accepted a challenge in 1943 from his father, who owned a shrimp plant in Louisiana, to design an automated shrimp peeler. Lapeyre's imagination and analytical mind set the course when one day he stepped on a shrimp with his rubber boot and noticed the meat had ejected cleanly out of its shell.
So began the process to create an automated shrimp-peeler 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 not in fact squeeze the shell from the meat. And ... it worked."
Research and innovation took Lapeyre to his mother's washing machine, which operated with rubber rollers. 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, La., 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.
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