The shrimp processing industry has a long and storied history, lined with a multitude of different innovations that have propelled the industry forward to optimize the production of shrimp for shrimp lovers across the world. It’s these innovations that allow us at Biloxi Shrimp Co. to process and ship quality Gulf shrimp anywhere in the country, year-round. Few inventions in the field have had a greater impact on both the Gulf Coast shrimping industry and the industry worldwide than the Lapeyre Shrimp Peeling Machine.
It all began in 1949 when sixteen-year-old James Martial Lapeyre from Houma, Louisiana received a challenge from his father, a shrimp plant owner, to design an automated shrimp peeler. An incredibly inventive and creative young man, James’ mental gears began turning one day when he stepped on a shrimp with his rubber boot and found that the meat had been cleanly shot out of it.
“I got my original idea, believe it or not, in church… When I was supposed to be praying, I was thinking about how to get the shrimp 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 in fact squeeze the shell from the meat. And… it worked.”
James ran with this idea and began augmenting his mother’s washing machine with rubber rollers. Using running water and mechanical pressure to feed shrimp into the machine, he discovered the “inch and release” action of the washer didn’t damage the shrimp, but cleanly separated the meat from them. And thus, the first prototype of the Lapeyre Shrimp Peeling Machine was born.
Each machine can individually peel approximately 1,000 pounds of shrimp an hour, with the batches ranging from 10 to 200 counts of shrimp per pound. For comparison, hand-peeling the same amount would take up to 150 experienced shrimp peelers. The peeling machine’s design was so successful, modern-day Model A Automatic Shrimp Peelers from Laitram Machinery Inc. (founded by none other than J.M. Lapeyre himself) are virtually identical to the first Lapeyre Shrimp Peeling Machines from 1949!
This single change to the process impacted not only how quickly shrimp could be peeled and how much could be sold, but also the very economy of shrimp itself. Processors began noticing that shrimp peeled with the Lapeyre Shrimp Peeling Machine had a significantly larger yield of shrimp per barrel than those that were hand-peeled. The reason behind this was the machine’s ability to recover 5 – 10% more meat from the head and tail-ends of the shrimp than could be obtained through hand-peeling. With this leading to overall lower processing costs, shrimp could then be sold for a lower price to a larger market. This helped expand shrimp processing from a local operation to a global one: all thanks to one miraculous invention inspired by a boot.
A perfectly maintained Model A Lapeyre Shrimp Peeling Machine is currently on display right down the road from us at Biloxi Shrimp Co. in the Maritime & Seafood Industry Museum in Biloxi, Mississippi (see above): special thanks to them for the video below as well!
We’re thankful for all the innovators that came before us to make spreading the delicious flavor of shrimp around the country easier than ever. The future is bright for our industry and we look forward to the new technologies that will continue to allow us to make our processes faster and easier.
Hungry for shrimp? If you’ve been thinking of ordering shrimp from us, now is the perfect time!