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Inventors and Inventions from France
A Sampling of French Inventors and Inventions


AQUALUNG

The aqualung is a breathing apparatus that supplied oxygen to divers and allowed them to stay underwater for several hours. It was invented in 1943 by Jacques-Yves Cousteau (1910 -1997) and the French industrial gas control systems engineer Emile Gagnan. Among the innovations in their device was a mechanism that provided inhalation and exhaust valves at the same level. That summer, the new device was tested in the Mediterranean Sea down to 210 ft (68 m) by Cousteau, Philippe Tailliez, and Frédérik Dumas. This safe, easy-to-use, and reliable device was the first modern scuba system.
BAROMETER
A barometer is a device that measures air (barometric) pressure. It measures the weight of the column of air that extends from the instrument to the top of the atmosphere. There are two types of barometers commonly used today, mercury and aneroid (meaning "fluidless"). Earlier water barometers (also known as "storm glasses") date from the 17th century. The mercury barometer was invented by the Italian physicist Evangelista Torricelli (1608 - 1647), a pupil of Galileo, in 1643. Torricelli inverted a glass tube filled with mercury into another container of mercury; the mercury in the tube "weighs" the air in the atmosphere above the tube. The aneroid barometer (using a spring balance instead of a liquid) was invented by the French scientist Lucien Vidie in 1843.
BATTERY
A battery is a device that converts chemical energy into electrical energy. Each battery has two electrodes, an anode (the positive end) and a cathode (the negative end). An electrical circuit runs between these two electrodes, going through a chemical called an electrolyte (which can be either liquid or solid). This unit consisting of two electrodes is called a cell (often called a voltaic cell or pile). Batteries are used to power many devices and make the spark that starts a gasoline engine.

Alessandro Volta was an Italian physicist invented the first chemical battery in 1800.

Storage batteries are lead-based batteries that can be recharged. In 1859, the French physicist Gaston Plante (1834-1889) invented a battery made from two lead plates joined by a wire and immersed in a sulfuric acid electrolyte; this was the first storage battery.

The dry cell is a an improved voltaic cell with a cylindrical zinc shell (the zinc acts as both the cathode and the container) that is lined with an ammonium chloride (the electrolyte) saturated material (and not a liquid). The dry cell battery was developed in the 1870s-1870s by Georges Leclanche of France, who used an electrolyte in the form of a paste.

Edison batteries (also called alkaline batteries) are an improved type of storage battery developed by Thomas Edison. These batteries have an alkaline electrolyte, and not an acid.

For more information on the battery, click here.

BICYCLE
The earliest bicycle was a wooden scooter-like contraption called a celerifere; it was invented about 1790 by Comte Mede de Sivrac of France. In 1816, Baron Karl von Drais de Sauerbrun, of Germany, invented a model with a steering bar attached to the front wheel, which he called a Draisienne. It has two wheels (of the same size), and the rider sat between the two wheels, but there were no pedals; to move, you had to propel the bicycle forward using your feet (a bit like a scooter). He exhibited his bicycle in Paris on April 6, 1818.

For a bicycle diagram printout to label, click here.

For more information on the invention of the bicycle, click here.

BRAILLE
Braille is a coded system of raised dots that are used by the blind to read. Louis Braille (1809-1852) invented this system in 1829. Braille published "The Method of Writing Words, Music, and Plain Song by Means of Dots, for Use by the Blind and Arranged by Them," and his method is still in use around the world today.
BRAILLE, LOUIS
Louis Braille (Jan. 4, 1809-Jan. 6, 1852) improved a coded system of raised dots used by the blind to read. He was blinded as a child, and invented his extraordinary system in his early teens. In 1829, Braille published "The Method of Writing Words, Music, and Plain Song by Means of Dots, for Use by the Blind and Arranged by Them." His method, called Braille, is still in use around the world today. Louis Braille is buried in the Pantheon in Paris, as a French national hero. For a worksheet on Braille, click here.
CASSEGRAIN TELESCOPE
A Cassegrain telescope is a wide-angle reflecting telescope with a concave mirror that receives light and focuses an image. A second mirror reflects the light through a gap in the primary mirror, allowing the eyepiece or camera to be mounted at the back end of the tube. The Cassegrain reflecting telescope was developed in 1672 by the French sculptor Sieur Guillaume Cassegrain. A correcting plate (a lens) was added in 1930 by the Estonian astronomer and lens-maker Bernard Schmidt (1879-1935), creating the Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope which minimized the spherical aberration of the Cassegrain telescope.
COUSTEAU, JACQUES
Jacques-Yves Cousteau (1910-1997) was a French undersea explorer, environmentalist, and innovator. In 1943, Cousteau and the French engineer Emile Gagnan invented the aqualung, a breathing apparatus that supplied oxygen to divers and allowed them to stay underwater for several hours. Cousteau traveled the world's oceans in his research vessel "Calypso," beginning in 1948. (Calypso was a converted 400-ton World War 2 minesweeper; it sank in 1996, after being hit by a barge in Singapore harbor). Cousteau's popular TV series, films and many books [including "The Living Sea" (1963), and "World Without Sun" (1965)] exposed the public to the wonders of the sea.
ELECTRIC IRON
The electric iron was invented in 1882 by Henry W. Seeley, a New York inventor Seeley patented his "electric flatiron" on June 6, 1882 (patent no. 259,054). His iron weighed almost 15 pounds and took a long time to warm up.

Other electric irons had also been invented, including one from France (1882), but it used a carbon arc to heat the iron, a method which was dangerous.

FOUCAULT, JEAN
GyroscopeJean Bernard Léon Foucault (1819-1868) was a French physicist who invented the gyroscope (1852) and the Foucault pendulum (1851). A gyroscope is essentially a spinning wheel set in a movable frame. When the wheel spins, it retains its spatial orientation, and it resists external forces applied to it. Gyroscopes are used in navigation instruments (for ships, planes, and rockets). Foucault was the first person to demonstrate how a pendulum could track the rotation of the Earth (the Foucault pendulum) in 1851. He also showed that light travels more slowly in water than in air (1850) and improved the mirrors of reflecting telescopes (1858).
GUILLOTINE
Many, many people were being executed during the French Revolution, and Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin (1738-1821) suggested that decapitation would be a more humane method for execution. Experiments with cadavers (dead people) were done. The device that we call the guillotine was invented; it is a tall wooden framework with a hole to keep a person's head still and a large falling blade. Although he did not invent the machine we call the guillotine, Guillotin's name is forever attached to it. The guillotine was first was used on April 25, 1792 at the Place de Grève (the victim was a highway man). The most famous victims of the guillotine include the deposed French King Louis XVI and his extravagant wife Queen Marie Antoinette, who were beheaded on January 21, 1793. The guillotine was used in France until 1981, when capital punishment was abolished.
GYROSCOPE
GyroscopeA gyroscope is essentially a spinning wheel set in a movable frame. When the wheel spins, it retains its spatial orientation, and it resists external forces applied to it. Gyroscopes are used in navigation instruments (for ships, planes, and rockets). Jean Bernard Léon Foucault (1819-1868), a French physicist, invented the gyroscope in 1852.
hot-air balloonHOT-AIR BALLOON
A hot-air balloon is a balloon that is filled with hot air; it rises because hot air is less dense (lighter) than the rest of the air. Joseph and Jacques Etienne Montgolfier were two French bothers who made the first successful hot-air balloon. Their first balloon was launched in December, 1782, and ascended to an altitude of 985 ft (300 m). This type of hot-air balloon was called the Montgolfiére; it was made of paper and used air heated by burning wool and moist straw. The first passengers in a hot-air balloon were a rooster, a sheep, and a duck, whom the Montgolfier brothers sent up to an altitude of 1,640 ft (500 m) on September 19, 1783 (the trip lasted for 8 minutes); the animals survived the landing. This event was observed by King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette of France.
INTERCHANGEABLE PARTS
Clock makers used the idea of interchangeable parts since the early 1700's. In 1790, the French gunsmith Honoré Blanc demonstrated his muskets entirely made from interchangeable parts; the French government didn't like the process (since with this process, anyone could manufacture items, and the government lost control), so it was stopped. The idea of interchangeable parts was introduced to American gun manufacturing by Eli Whitney (1765-1825) in 1798. The concept of interchangeable manufacturing parts helped modernize the musket industry (and mass production in general). Whitney made templates for each separate part of the musket (an early gun). The workers then used the template when chiseling the part. Whitney was an American inventor and engineer who also invented the cotton gin.
IRON, ELECTRIC
The electric iron was invented in 1882 by Henry W. Seeley, a New York inventor Seeley patented his "electric flatiron" on June 6, 1882 (patent no. 259,054). His iron weighed almost 15 pounds and took a long time to warm up.

Other electric irons had also been invented, including one from France (1882), but it used a carbon arc to heat the iron, a method which was dangerous.

LECLANCHE, GEORGES
The dry cell is a an improved voltaic cell (battery) that has a cylindrical zinc shell (the zinc acts as both the cathode and the container) that is lined with an ammonium chloride (the electrolyte) saturated material (and not a liquid). Although called dry, dry cells are not entirely dry, but they are less bulky and more easily transported than earlier batteries. The dry cell battery was developed in the 1870s-1870s by Georges Leclanché (1839-1882), a French engineer, who used an electrolyte in the form of a paste in his new battery.
MAYONNAISE
Mayonnaise was invented in France hundreds of years ago, probably in 1756 by the French chef working for the Duke de Richelieu, The first ready-made mayonnaise was sold in the US in 1905 at Richard Hellman's deli in New York. Hellman sold his wife's mayonnaise in open wooden boats. In 1912, he sold the mayonnaise in large glass bottles; the type he called "Hellman's Blue Ribbon Mayonnaise" was very popular and is still sold today (it is now owned by Best Foods).
METER (and the METRIC SYSTEM)
The metric system was invented in France. In 1790, the French National Assembly directed the Academy of Sciences of Paris to standardize the units of measurement. A committeee from the Academy used a decimal system and defined the meter to be one 10-millionths of the distance from the equator to the Earth's Pole (that is, the Earth's circumference would be equal to 40 million meters). The committee consisted of the mathematicians Jean Charles de Borda (1733-1799), Joseph-Louis Comte de Lagrange (1736-1813), Pierre-Simon Laplace (1749-1827), Gaspard Monge (1746 -1818), and Marie Jean Antoine Nicholas Caritat, the Marquis de Condorcet (1743-1794)

The word meter comes from the Greek word metron, which means measure. The centimeter was defined as one-hundredth of a meter; the kilometer was defined as 1000 meters. The metric system was passed by law in France on August 1, 1793. In 1960, the definition of the meter changed to 1,650,763.73 wavelengths of of the orange-red radiation of krypton 86. In 1983, the meter was redefined as 1/299,792,458 of the distance that light travels in one second in a vacuum.

For the metric unit of mass, the gram was defined as the mass of one cubic centimeter of pure water at a given temperature. In common usage and in commerce, grams are used as a unit of weight.

hot-air balloonMONTGOLFIER BROTHERS
Joseph (1740-1810) and Jacques Etienne (1745-1799) Montgolfier were two French bothers from Vidalon-les-Annonay, near Lyons, who made the first successful hot-air balloon. Their first balloon was launched in December, 1782, and ascended to an altitude of 985 ft (300 m). This type of hot-air balloon was called the Montgolfiére; it was made of paper and used air heated by burning wool and moist straw. The first passengers in a hot-air balloon were a rooster, a sheep, and a duck, whom the Montgolfier brothers sent up to an altitude of 1,640 ft (500 m) on September 19, 1783 (the trip lasted for 8 minutes); the animals survived the landing. This event was observed by King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette of France.
PARACHUTE
A parachute is a device for slowing down one's descent while falling to the ground. Parachutes are used to skydive from airplanes, to jump from very high places, and to help slow down the descent of spacecraft. Parachutes are also used to slow down some race cars. The early parachutes were made from canvas (a strong cotton cloth). Light-weight (but very strong) silk cloth was then introduced for parachutes. Modern-day parachutes use nylon fabric.

The idea of using a parachute to fall gently to the ground was written about by Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519). The first parachute was demonstrated by Louis-Sébastien Lenormand in 1783 of France - he jumped from a very tall tree carrying two parasols (umbrellas). A few years later, some adventurous people jumped from hot-air balloons using primitive parachutes. The first person to jump from a flying airplane (and survive the fall) was Captain Albert Berry, who jumped from a U.S. Army plane in 1912. Parachutes were first used in war towards the end of World War 1.

PASTEUR, LOUIS
Louis Pasteur (1822-1895) was a French chemist and inventor. Pasteur studied the process of fermentation, and postulated that fermentation was produced by microscopic organisms (other than yeast), which Pasteur called germs. He hypothesized that these germs might be responsible for some diseases. Pasteur disproved the notion of "spontaneous generation " which stated that organisms could spring from nothing; Pasteur showed that organisms came form other, pre-existing organisms. Applying his theories to foods and drinks, Pasteur invented a heating process (now called pasteurization) which sterilizes food, killing micro-organisms that contaminate it.
PENCIL
The "lead" pencil (which contains no lead) was invented in 1564 when a huge graphite (black carbon) mine was discovered in England. The pure graphite was sawn into sheets and then cut into square rods. The graphite rods were inserted into hand-carved wooden holders, forming pencils. They were called lead pencils by mistake - at the time, graphite was called black lead or "plumbago," from the Greek word for lead (it looked and acted like lead, and it was not known at the time that graphite consisted of carbon and not lead).

In 1795, the Nicholas Jacques Conte (a French officer in Napoleon's army) patented the modern method of kiln-firing powdered graphite with clay to make pencils of any desired hardness.

For a more on the invention of the pencil, click here.

PLANTE, GASTON
In 1859, the French physicist Raymond Gaston Planté (April 22, 1834-1889) invented a battery made from two lead plates joined by a wire and immersed in a sulfuric acid electrolyte; this was the first storage battery. Storage batteries are batteries that can be recharged.
RAYON
Rayon is a cellulose-based fiber that is made from wood pulp or cotton waste. Rayon is used as a substitute for silk. It was invented around 1855 by the Swiss chemist Georges Audemars; the process was refined in 1864 by the French chemist and industrialist Comte (Count) Hilaire Bernigaud de Chardonnet (1839-1924). Rayon was first commercially produced in 1910 by Avtex Fibers Inc. in the United States - it was called "artificial silk" at first, but the name was changed to rayon in 1924.
SCHMIDT-CASSEGRAIN TELESCOPE
A Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope (SCT) is a wide-angle reflecting telescope with a correcting lens that minimizes spherical aberration and a concave mirror that receives light and focuses an image. A second mirror reflects the light through a gap in the primary mirror, allowing the eyepiece or camera to be mounted at the back end of the tube. The Cassegrain telescope (named for the French sculptor Sieur Guillaume Cassegrain) was developed in 1672; the correcting plate (a lens) was added in 1930 by the Estonian astronomer and lens-maker Bernard Schmidt (1879-1935).
sewing machineSEWING MACHINE
The first functional sewing machine was invented by the French tailor Barthélemy Thimonnier in 1830. Other tailors feared for their livelihood, and burnt his workshop down. Elias Howe was American inventor who patented an improved sewing machine in 1846. Howe's revolutionary machine used two separate threads, one threaded through the needle, and one in a shuttle; it was powered by a hand crank. A sideways-moving needle with its eye at one end would pierce the fabric, creating a loop of thread on the other side; a shuttle would then push thread through the loop, creating a tight lock stitch. Earlier sewing machines used only one thread and a chain stitch that could unravel. Howe's business did not thrive. Others, like Isaac M. Singer made slight modifications in the machine and built successful businesses. Howe sued those who had infringed on his patent and won royalties on all machines sold (he was paid $5.00 for each sewing machine sold). Howe died the year his patent expired.
VIDIE, LUCIEN
Lucien Vidie was a French scientist who invented the aneroid barometer in 1843. A barometer is a device that measures air (barometric) pressure. It measures the weight of the column of air that extends from the instrument to the top of the atmosphere. There are two types of barometers commonly used today, mercury and aneroid (meaning "fluidless"). The aneroid barometer uses a spring balance instead of a liquid; it is easy to transport and easy to construct.

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