BHM: Inventor of the sugar cane planter, Leonard Julien Sr.
5 months ago WBRZ 0
PORT ALLEN – The West Baton Rouge Museum is filled with art collections and tokens of Louisiana history, but outside there’s a huge machine that holds quite the story.
“One thing daddy used to always tell was, ‘I don’t know about y’all, but when I leave, y’all gonna talk about me for a long time,'” said Alyce Julien-Robinson.
Her father, Leonard Julien Sr., was born in Modest, Louisiana—the tiny village nestled between Donaldsonville and White Castle. He worked as a farmer, but he also found other ways to keep busy.
“He used to volunteer an hour of his time to teach the St. Katherine band and working the sugar cane fields during the day,” his son, Clifford Julien, said. “He used to play music til 12… 1… 2 o’clock in the morning.”
Julien had eleven children, and he kept them busy.
“We used to be glad when school was open because during the summer we were working,” his eldest son, Leonard Jr. said. “If we wasn’t in the field, we were up all night practicing.”
The big machine that bares his name may be the physical culmination of his life’s work, but for a while, it was a big secret.
“He kept it covered up because they would come around and ask him ‘Julienn what you working on?’ And he wouldn’t tell them. He kept this covered up,” said Michael Julien.
With only a third grade education, for months he only bought small parts here and there. Finally, in 1964 he had finished his work, and the sugar cane planter was born.
“When the idea became a full idea in his mind, somebody told him it would be best to get a patent on it. That’s when he applied for his patent,” said Leonard Jr.
Even with the patent in his name, people tried and failed to sell his invention as their own. Companies like John Deere even offered him huge sums of money for it.
“He told them he would sell if they left his name on the patent seal,” Leonard Jr. said. “They said no it’s got to be John Deere painted green. He told them forget it.”
Now, more than 50 years later, Julien’s basic machine is how it’s still being done today.
Even with one invention patented, he had plenty of other ideas.
“He was trying to sell the three row cultivators himself, but the local farmers told him it was too heavy,” Micahel Julien said. “But a little while later, we look up and here comes three row cultivators.”
When he died in 1994, he was still inventing.
“He passed trying to develop the two-row sugar cane cutter, which shortly after he passed was developed by someone else,” Ronal Julien said.
With his hands so busy on his farm and machinery, and with such a big family to lead, the inventor had one main point that has been passed to the generations of Julien’s.
“It was never something I can’t do or I don’t want to do,” Ronald Julien said. “It was if you were asked to do it, you made it happen.”