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French Inventions of the Eighteenth Century

French Inventions of the Eighteenth Century

Shelby T. McCloy
Copyright Date: 1952
Pages: 254
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  • Book Info
    French Inventions of the Eighteenth Century
    Book Description:

    The eighteenth century, age of France's leadership in Western civilization, was also the most flourishing period of French inventive genius. Generally obscured by England's great industrial development are the contributions France made in the invention of the balloon, paper-making machines, the steamboat, the semaphore telegraph, gas illumination, the silk loom, the threshing machine, the fountain pen, and even the common graphite pencil. Shelby T. McCloy believes that these and many other inventions which have greatly influenced technological progress made prerevolutionary France the rival, if not the leader, of England.

    In his book McCloy analyzes the factors that led to France's inventive activity in the eighteenth century. He also advances reasons for France's failure to profit from her inventive prowess at a time when England's inventions were being put to immediate and practical use.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-6397-0
    Subjects: History, Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Preface
    (pp. vii-viii)
    Shelby T. McCloy
  3. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    In the rapid social advance of the last two and a half centuries, science and invention have played a gigantic role. There is no one living today, at least in a civilized country, who is not very much their debtor. At every turn we enjoy conveniences and advantages that even the most highborn and favored of the eighteenth century did not dream of. Our homes and offices have been transformed by artificial lighting and heating, hydraulic accommodations, close-fitting windows, and numerous other devices not known in that day. Communication and entertainment have been revolutionized through radio, television, the telephone, and...

  5. [Illustration]
    (pp. None)
  6. Chapter I The Balloon
    (pp. 11-27)

    A famous day in the annals of the small town of Annonay, near Lyons in southeastern France, was June 5, 1783, when a group of its citizens watched the first public balloon ascension.¹ The heroes of the occasion were the inventors Joseph (1740-1810) and Etienne (1745-1799) Montgolfier, sons of a well-to-do paper manufacturer.

    According to report, the Montgolfier brothers first became interested in the idea of a balloon by watching the clouds pile one upon the other. According to report, too, they took interest in observing smoke rise from chimneys. But it may well be questioned whether the balloon would...

  7. [Illustration]
    (pp. None)
  8. [Illustration]
    (pp. None)
  9. Chapter II Steam Transportation
    (pp. 28-40)

    Perhaps no more significant development was made during the eighteenth century than in the steam engine. Invented in the late 1600’s by Denis Papin, it shortly underwent improvements by Thomas Savery and Thomas Newcomen of England in 1698 and around 1711, and in the 1760’s and 1770’s it was perfected further by James Watt, the Scot, who gave it closer fittings, a separate cylinder, and double motion of the piston, thereby greatly increasing its power and speed. All of these men saw the opportunity for practical application of this new source of motive power, destined in the nineteenth century to...

  10. [Illustration]
    (pp. None)
  11. Chapter III The Telegraph
    (pp. 41-49)

    The first elaborate telegraphic system was also the invention of eighteenth-century France. Throughout history, communication at a distance has been made by fires, lights, pigeons, and other means. Prior to the invention of the telegraph, various suggestions had been offered and attempts made to arrive at a complex method of distant communication through sight or sound. The Jesuit Flamianus Strada, in the early 1600’s, greatly impressed with the work of William Gilbert in magnetism, suggested that two men at a distance might communicate with one another by the use of magnetic needles pointing toward letters on a dial. Joseph Addison...

  12. [Illustration]
    (pp. None)
  13. Chapter IV Lighting
    (pp. 50-61)

    Eighteenth-century France gave birth to a notable series of inventions in lighting. So excellent are the lighting facilities of our own day that it is difficult to believe that they are of recent origin. At the beginning of the eighteenth century Western Europe used only a crude lamp of ancient origin, the candle, which had come into existence in the Middle Ages, and the lantern, also dating from the Middle Ages. Their light was poor. The lamps did not have the glass chimneys of later days; while the lanterns, though enclosed with glass, had defects in feeding both with oil...

  14. [Illustration]
    (pp. None)
  15. Chapter V Papermaking
    (pp. 62-70)

    Until late in the eighteenth century, paper in Europe and America was made almost exclusively from linen and cotton. Occasionally hemp and wool were used, apparently in mixture with either cotton or linen, but not in the better grades of paper. Paper also was made from asbestos. In China, where paper of unsurpassed quality was made, silkworm skins, bamboo, and other materials were commonly used, but eighteenth-century Europeans knew little of Chinese manufacture of this article and were not at all influenced by it. To keep up with the enormous output in the 1700’s of books, pamphlets, periodicals, and newspapers,...

  16. Chapter VI Chemical Inventions
    (pp. 71-89)

    Chemistry was still in an early stage in the eighteenth century. After 1770 rapid developments were made by a large number of brilliant workers, British, French, German, and Swedish. No country contributed more than did France, which furnished such men as Lavoisier, Berthollet, Macquer, Guyton de Morveau, Darcet, Fourcroy, Daubenton, Chaptal, Dutrone, Leblanc, Vauquelin, and Descroizilles. To France, too, belongs the credit for certain developments that might be called inventions–those practical applications of chemistry to industry, the household arts, and methods of warfare.

    Well at the top of useful applications of chemical knowledge must be reckoned the use of...

  17. [Illustration]
    (pp. None)
  18. Chapter VII Textiles
    (pp. 90-102)

    Textile inventions and developments, like those in dyes, were numerous in France during the 1700’s, more especially during the last decades. Their story has been badly neglected, and the records all too commonly are but scanty references. In many instances it is not possible to understand clearly the features that led officials of the government to designate them as “inventions.” Often they must have been what today would be called improvements.

    The textile inventions were all concerned with one or more of three processes: carding or preparation of materials, spinning, and weaving. In the carding of cotton and wool, a...

  19. [Illustration]
    (pp. None)
  20. Chapter VIII Automata
    (pp. 103-110)

    Vaucanson (1709-1782), the celebrated inventor from Grenoble, was the creator of several automatic figures, such as a flute player, a tambourine player, a duck, and an asp. So lifelike in action were all these that they attracted enormous public attention. The flute player came first in point of time. It had a repertoire of twelve tunes, displaying a great range in notes in three octaves. The idea of this robot was suggested to young Vaucanson when he first came to Paris and saw the statue of a flute player in the garden of the Tuileries. He spent several years at...

  21. [Illustration]
    (pp. None)
  22. Chapter IX Other Mechanical Devices
    (pp. 111-135)

    Although much thought and effort were spent upon objects of amusement like automata, a great number of more useful mechanical devices also received attention. One such device was a threshing machine. Historians credit the Scot Andrew Meikle with introducing the first successful threshing machine (1786). Before Meikle, water-turned threshers had been invented by the Scots Michael Menzies (1732) and a certain Leckie (1738), but their flails turned so violently that the grain was injured. The French mechanician Du Quet had designed one approved by the Academy of Sciences in 1722.¹ Wheat was flailed in a large rectangular bed by boards...

  23. [Illustration]
    (pp. None)
  24. [Illustration]
    (pp. None)
  25. Chapter X Military Inventions
    (pp. 136-147)

    Eighteenth-century France was a great military power. She had one of the largest and most efficient armies of Europe; during the Revolutionary era her troops swept everything before them. Such an army was not created overnight. Invention, which was transforming all other phases of human development, also contributed greatly to the military growth of the nation.

    Long before the days of Lazare Carnot, the genius of the Revolutionary army, France had produced some remarkable military tacticians and organizers in the Chevalier Folard (1669-1752), the Comte de Guibert (1743-1790), and Jean Baptiste Vaquette de Gribeauval (1715-1789). Folard had served in the...

  26. [Illustration]
    (pp. None)
  27. Chapter XI Medicine and Surgery
    (pp. 148-169)

    In medicine proper the French were not outstanding in the eighteenth century. Their leading medical schools, the universities of Paris and Montpellier, were inferior to those of Leyden, Edinburgh, and Vienna. On the other hand, French surgery was unexcelled, and was rivaled only by that of Great Britain, where in the second half of the century a number of notable Scots set the pace. Petit, Mareschal, La Peyronie, Chopart, Baseilhac, Le Cat, J anin, Daviel, Puzos, Lebas, Desault, Bichat, Coysevox—these are names of remarkable French surgeons of the period, and they do not exhaust the list.

    The physicians would...

  28. [Illustration]
    (pp. None)
  29. Chapter XII Patents and Encouragement
    (pp. 170-185)

    Not until 1791 did the French government grant patents to inventors; however, an imperfect system of government recognition of the rights of inventors did exist. Louis XIV and Colbert in chartering the Academy of Sciences in 1666 designated as one of its functions the investigation of claims to scientific or mechanical invention or discovery. This body in each case appointed a committee of three or more members considered best qualified to pass on the merits of the claim. The applicant was required to submit a detailed written description of the item invented, and with it drawings illustrating both the mechanism...

  30. [Illustration]
    (pp. None)
  31. Conclusion
    (pp. 186-198)

    Many questions no doubt have been provoked by reading of the foregoing chapters. What was the education of the inventors? What motives were uppermost with them? What section of France furnished the most inventors? How did France compare in invention with other countries? Unfortunately the information concerning most inventors is meager; of some little more than their names is known. Even the most famous have received treatment only too scanty, for biographers have looked elsewhere for their subjects. It is therefore upon a limited number of the most prominent that observation must be based for answers.

    None of these questions...

  32. [Illustration]
    (pp. None)
  33. Bibliography
    (pp. 199-204)
  34. Index
    (pp. 205-212)