Ex­plor­ing the most in­no­va­tive minds and great­est in­ven­tors, with their in­ven­tions.

France - - Bienvenue -

France has al­ways loved to in­no­vate, cre­ate and in­vent in ev­ery field, from arts and cul­ture to the sci­ences. So it is per­haps not sur­pris­ing that so many vi­tal ob­jects, ma­chines and so­lu­tions which we take for granted were first dreamed up in the minds of an in­ge­nious, dar­ing, or in­deed mav­er­ick French man or woman.

Take those early pi­o­neers of flight, the Mont­golfier brothers Joseph-michel (1740-1810) and Jacques-éti­enne (1745-1799). They helped to run the fam­ily pa­per fac­tory busi­ness near An­nonay in Ardèche, where they no­ticed that heated air be­neath a light­weight pa­per or fab­ric bag al­lowed the bag to float. A se­ries of hot-air bal­loon ex­per­i­ments cul­mi­nated in the first manned un­teth­ered flight on 21 Novem­ber 1783, when Jean-françois Pilâtre de Rozier and the Mar­quis d’ar­lan­des flew for around 20 min­utes over Paris and made the dream of hu­man flight a re­al­ity.

The Mont­golfiers were pre­oc­cu­pied with con­quer­ing the air, but for Louis Braille, mak­ing the writ­ten word ac­ces­si­ble to the blind was the pri­mary aim. Braille was born in Coupvray, Île-de-france, on 4 Jan­uary 1809 and was blinded at the age of three while play­ing with tools in his fa­ther’s work­shop. The boy grew into a bright scholar, and a gifted mu­si­cian, and when he was just ten, Braille went to study at the Royal In­sti­tute for the Blind in Paris, where he would later teach.

As a school­boy, Braille be­came in­ter­ested in a sys­tem de­vel­oped by Cap­tain Charles Bar­bier de la Serre to en­able the mil­i­tary to com­mu­ni­cate in the dark with­out the use of light. He was in­spired to de­velop his own sys­tem of writ­ing for the blind, based on a se­ries of raised dots in a six-point grid. Braille pre­sented his sys­tem in 1832, but the in­sti­tute did not adopt it un­til two years af­ter his death in 1852. Other sys­tems were be­ing de­vel­oped, and it took Great Bri­tain and the USA un­til 1932 to adopt Braille as the uni­form method of re­pro­duc­ing printed ma­te­rial.

While Braille was work­ing to con­vince his peers in 1832, there were de­vel­op­ments at large in a dif­fer­ent branch of sci­ence. This was the year in which Jeanne VillepreuxPower in­vented a way to wit­ness the mys­ter­ies of the deep on dry land. VillepreuxPower was born in Juil­lac, Cor­rèze, in 1794, the daugh­ter of a shoe­maker, and went to Paris where she be­came a dress­maker of some renown. Af­ter mar­ry­ing an English merchant, she moved to Si­cily, where she be­came fas­ci­nated by the nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment, par­tic­u­larly marine life. Need­ing an ef­fec­tive way to con­tinue her work, she in­vented the first recog­nis­able glass aquar­ium.

Villepreux-power ef­fec­tively brought the un­der­wa­ter world on to dry land, and more than a cen­tury later her com­pa­tri­ots, naval of­fi­cer Jacques-yves Cousteau and en­gi­neer Émile Gag­nan, de­vel­oped a way of al­low­ing hu­mans to spend more time in the deep blue sea, with the in­ven­tion of the aqualung.

Thanks to his many marine doc­u­men­taries, Cousteau was equally well known as a film-maker, an oc­cu­pa­tion that ar­guably ex­ists largely thanks to the work of Au­guste and Louis Lu­mière from Lyon. They de­signed the ciné­matographe, a cam­era, printer and pro­jec­tor that was used to present the first cin­ema screen­ing, in Paris in 1895. Like so many of the in­ven­tions of their coun­try­men, their in­ge­nious idea changed the world for­ever.

THINGS TO DO 1 France Mont­golfières Bal­loon Com­pany

Take off from lo­ca­tions across France to ex­pe­ri­ence the Mont­golfier brothers’ in­cred­i­ble in­ven­tion first­hand. France Mont­golfières Bal­loon Com­pany is one of sev­eral firms to of­fer hot-air bal­loon flights: rise above the rugged land­scape of Provence, float over the vine­yards of Bur­gundy or gaze down upon the grandeur of the châteaux of the Loire such as Chenon­ceau ( pic­tured above) and see the stun­ning French coun­try­side from a new per­spec­tive. 4 bis Rue du Saus­sis 21140 Se­mur-en-aux­ois Tel: 0203 287 1775; (Fr) 3 80 97 38 61 france-bal­loons.com

2 Musée des Arts et Métiers, Paris

De­signed by its founder, Henri Gré­goire, in 1794 to cel­e­brate “new and use­ful in­ven­tions,” the mu­seum – housed in a de­serted pri­ory – has built up a fas­ci­nat­ing col­lec­tion demon­strat­ing tech­no­log­i­cal in­no­va­tion in all its glory. More than 2,400 in­ven­tions are di­vided into seven cat­e­gories: sci­en­tific in­stru­ments, ma­te­ri­als, en­ergy, me­chan­ics, con­struc­tion, com­mu­ni­ca­tion and trans­port. 292 Rue Saint-martin 75141 Paris Tel: (Fr) 1 53 01 82 75 arts-et-metiers.net

3 Musée Louis Braille, Seine-et-marne

Not far from the buzz of Dis­ney­land Paris and the bus­tle of the French cap­i­tal lies the quiet vil­lage of Coupvray, the birth­place of Louis Braille. His mod­est fam­ily home, where he lived as a child and con­va­lesced as an adult suf­fer­ing from tu­ber­cu­lo­sis, is now a mu­seum ded­i­cated to his life and work. Vis­i­tors can fol­low a guided tour and try read­ing and writ­ing in Braille. Visit the vil­lage church, too, where Braille was ini­tially buried be­fore be­ing moved to the Pan­théon in Paris, fi­nal rest­ing place of France’s great­est fig­ures. 13 Rue Louis Braille 77700 Coupvray Tel: (Fr) 1 60 04 82 80 coupvray.fr

4 Musée Lu­mière, Lyon

This mu­seum, part of the In­sti­tut Lu­mière, takes cin­ema-lovers back to the place where film as we know it was born. The ciné­matographe was de­signed here, and the dis­plays pay homage to Louis and Au­guste Lu­mière’s pi­o­neer­ing con­tri­bu­tion to the sep­tième art. Find out, too, about the brothers’ other in­no­va­tions, in­clud­ing the panoramic pic­ture and early use of 3D. The in­sti­tute is based at the brothers’ fam­ily home and is a work of art in its own right – an art-nou­veau château with crafted ceil­ings and a grandiose stair­case. The ad­join­ing cin­ema is housed in a strik­ing mod­ern build­ing ( pic­tured above) on the site of the Lu­mières’ orginal fac­tory and shows a range of films as well as host­ing fes­ti­vals. 25 Rue du Pre­mier-film 69352 Lyon Tel: (Fr) 4 78 78 18 95 in­sti­tut-lu­miere.org

The cin­ema pi­o­neers Louis and Au­guste Lu­mière in later life





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