By Musée des arts et métiers

Musée des arts et métiers

L'invention de l'imprimerie permet de transcrire et diffuser l'information dès le XVe siècle. Pour la reproduction du son, de l'image et du mouvement il a fallu beaucoup plus de
temps, d'essais et d'échecs. En découvrant les réalisations de bateleurs
comme Robertson ou de chercheurs comme Bell, on découvre l'étonnante
diversité de l'histoire de la communication, jusqu'à Internet.

Rotary press with folding apparatus (1886) by Hippolyte MarinoniMusée des arts et métiers

L'écrit et l'imprimé

Mechanical typographic press (Circa 1785) by Philippe Denis PierresMusée des arts et métiers

Mechanical typographic press

The printer Philippe Denis Pierres was renowned for the quality of the books he produced. In 1784 he presented Louis XVI with a new type of printing press that 'paid tribute to His Majesty'. The mechanism used to exert pressure reduces the operator’s fatigue.Pierres, appointed ‘first printer ordinary to the King’, constructed his presses himself, either full-scale or as models. In 1807 Claude Pierre Molard recommended the purchase of two fixed carriage presses in the Pierres’ printing works, considering this ‘useful for the progress of the art’.

Machine for engraving skies and backgrounds (1803) by Nicolas Jacques Conté, Antoine Clerc GalletMusée des arts et métiers

Machine for engraving skies and backgrounds

In 1803 Conté directed the publication of the studies undertaken by scholars and scientists during Napoleon Bonaparte’s Egyptian campaign from 1798 to 1801, in which several eminent scientific figures took part.

Aware of the technical and financial difficulties involved in executing the plates, he devised a machine for engraving on copper that could inscribe more or less pronounced parallel lines, or gradations to suggest shading. Designed to rapidly and uniformly engrave ‘backgrounds’ and ‘skies’ and obtain homogenous tints, this machine achieved the necessary perfection in rendering atmospheric and architectural effects and bas-reliefs.

The twenty-volume Description de l’Égypte was published between 1808 and 1822. In 1832 Claude Pouillet, the Conservatoire’s director, requested that the government loan a copy of the book to the institution’s library, where ‘this beautiful monument will not be a mere ornament but will have a real use’.

Typesetting machine (Circa 1850) by Adrien Delcambre, James Hedden YoungMusée des arts et métiers

Typesetting machine

Invented in 1840 by Delcambre and Young to solve the problem of mechanising typesetting, this machine was shown at the Exhibitions of Products of French Industry in 1844 and 1849. It impressed Henri Tresca, professor of mechanics at the Conservatoire, at the Universal Exposition in 1855, where it also won an award.

The letters and symbols are first arranged on the typesetting machine using a machine called a distributor. Via a set of channels, they are then successively assembled in the order determined by the pressure of the operator’s fingers on a mechanical keyboard. It was due to this analogy with the piano keyboard that this machine was baptised the ‘Pianotype’. Designed to accelerate the typesetting process and reduce labour costs, the machine could be operated by female typesetters. It was improved by Isidore Delcambre, Adrien’s son, and shown at the Universal Exposition in 1862.

Lithographic cylinder press (1849) by [Jacques Laurent] PoirierMusée des arts et métiers

Lithographic cylinder press

This lithographic press by the machine maker Poirier has an iron cylinder with mobile bearings. The lithographic stone is propelled back and forth by a gearwheel controlled by a second, much smaller cogged wheel worked by a lever. The strong pressure uniformly exerted over the entire surface of the stone can be adjusted using the mechanism at the top of the press. The cylinder ensures the stone’s regular inking, irrespective of the printer’s manual skill. Poirier was acclaimed for the quality of his machines and was awarded bronze medals at the Exhibitions of Products of French Industry in 1844 and 1849. In 1855 Désiré van Monckhoven recommended that photographers use this press to calender photographic visiting cards, and in 1860 Poirier registered a patent for a machine for glazing photographs.

Rotary press with folding apparatus (1886) by Hippolyte MarinoniMusée des arts et métiers

Rotary press with folding apparatus

"One of this company's most outstanding qualities," wrote the typography section rapporteur at the 1900 Universal Exhibition, where Établissements Marinoni exhibited five different rotary presses, "is that it immediately meets all its customers' practical whims.

It does not stick to existing systems and models but creates tools that meet the needs of the moment." This rotary press with a folding apparatus proves the point.

It was purpose-built for the Conservatory's graphic arts gallery and given by Hippolyte Marinoni in 1886; the Ministry of Commerce and Industry thanked him with a gift of Sèvres porcelain.

The press's estimated value was 32,000 francs. Jules Michaud, Marinoni's son-in-law, offered to show the Conservatory's staff how it worked.

L'Active typographic printing press (Circa 1900) by Hippolyte Marinoni, Jules MichaudMusée des arts et métiers

L'Active typographic printing press

This type of printing press, first produced in the United States around 1860, was made by the Marinoni company from 1886 under the directorship of Jules Michaud. This pedal operated press, shown at the Universal Exposition in 1889, could also be motor-driven. It could be flat or cylindrically inked depending on the model, and has a mechanical sheet receiver.

One of these presses was loaned to the Conservatoire in 1905, to be displayed ‘working’ in the Musée de la Prévention des Accidents du Travail, hence the ‘protective organs’, painted red, on the mechanical parts that can pose a threat to the operator.

When the obsolete exhibit was dismantled in the late 1950s, the Marinoni company donated L’Active to the Musée des Arts et Métiers, which considered it was interesting to show it working.

Collection of nibs, nib holders and proprelling pencils (Second half of the 19th century) by Blanzy, Poure & CieMusée des arts et métiers

Collection of nibs

Pierre Blanzy and Eugène Poure created a factory at Boulogne-sur-Mer in 1846 to produce metal nibs, which until then had been imported from England. Its machines and skills came from across the Channel.

Making a nib involved some twenty different operations, carried out by qualified, mainly female workers operating sophisticated equipment: laminating sheet metal, cutting, piercing, pressing, shaping, polishing, sharpening, varnishing, mounting the nib, etc.

The company acquired a solid reputation for the quality and variety of its products, which were acclaimed and awarded prizes at national and international exhibitions. It diversified its production, much of which was exported, to include dip pens, propelling pencils, pencil holders, stud seals for envelopes, and also cases for perfumery products and stamped pieces for a variety of industries.

Double-type typewriter (1878) by RemingtonMusée des arts et métiers

Double-type typewriter

New York's Remington Company manufactured this typewriter, which the museum acquired during the Paris Universal Exhibition in 1878.

It was already in widespread use in the United States and England by then, but the author of the report of the exhibition's international jury had some reservations. "Will this machine be useful?" he asked. "It is too early to say. However, in some cases we think it could be precious to make copies of, but not to write, minutes, which would require the operator or writer to have special training. In any case, there is no doubt that several important companies use the machine for their business correspondence. That is certainly in the practical domain." This typewriter's entry into the museum's collections signalled the emergence of innovation at the crossroads of new communication tools and the paradigms of modern mechanics based on standardised parts and mass production.

Automatic cryptograph (1875/1888) by Alexis KohlMusée des arts et métiers

Automatic cryptograph

Invented by the Danish engineer Alexis Kohl, this ‘secret automatic and mechanical translator’ was intended for use by diplomats and the military. According to Aimé Laussedat, in its overall conception it has similarities with circular index typewriters.

The encryption was done in groups of five characters, in accordance with the regulations then governing telegraphy. The number of letters employed, less than that of the original text, increases the complexity of their deciphering, and therefore the message’s security.

This cryptograph is extremely precise and rapid in its operation, both in transmission and reception. Kohl offered it to the Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers in 1888, on the condition that it should not be shown to the public until 1 January 1894. Until that date it was kept in the safe in the director’s office, in a case closed with the inventor’s seal.

Daguerreotype camera with drawer (Circa 1835) by Louis Jacques Mandé DaguerreMusée des arts et métiers

L'image fixe

Daguerreotype camera with drawer

Jean Félix Bapterosses, a manufacturer in Briare, and his son-in-law, Alfred Loreau, gave this group consisting of a dark chamber and the equipment necessary to produce daguerreotypes to the Conservatoire des arts et métiers in 1881.

The gift was made through the intermediary of Victor de Luynes and Arthur Liébaut, members of the museum's Acquisitions Council. The historic collections went on display in the graphic arts and photography gallery newly created by the institution. "The items you will receive […] passed directly from Daguerre's studio into the hands of Monsieur Bapterosses and we are transmitting them to you as they were grouped together," Loreau wrote to Conservatory Director Hervé Mangon.

Nothing is known of the context in which Bapterosses had acquired the collection or about his relationship with Daguerre, who had improved on Nicéphore Niepce's experiments. In 1839 the French government acquired and divulged the "daguerreotype" process, as it was called, to offer it as a gift to humanity.

Engraved copper printing plate and positive print on paper: Les Moissonneurs dans les marais pontins (Harvesters in the Pontine Marshes) by Louis Léopold Robert (Circa 1845) by Hippolyte Fizeau, J.-J. HurlimannMusée des arts et métiers

Engraved copper printing plate and positive print on paper: Les Moissonneurs dans les marais pontins (Harvesters in the Pontine Marshes) by Louis Léopold Robert

In 1843 Hippolyte Fizeau registered a patent for a photographic engraving process enabling the printing of a daguerreotype without retouching.

The daguerreotype is treated with an acid that acts on the dark parts of the image without affecting the light areas.

The second procedure is the further deepening of the dark areas with linseed oil, as in intaglio printmaking. The plate is then electromechanically gilded. With its prominent parts now protected by the gold coating, the surface is again treated with acid.

Now transformed into an engraved plate, the daguerreotype is delivered to the printer, who can then print a large quantity of copies on paper, comparable in quality to the results obtained by aquatint printmaking.

Fizeau presented his process to the Académie des Sciences, emphasising the quality of the prints, which nevertheless depends on the quality of the original daguerreotype.

Touriste' view camera (1881) by Ernest Théophile EnjalbertMusée des arts et métiers

Touriste view camera

In 1881 Théophile Enjalbert designed the ‘Touriste’ view camera, whose sensitised glass plates are loaded together in wooden frames in a ‘frame drawer’, or changing box.

When the image has been focused, the frame to be exposed is put in place by pressing a button. When the drawer is removed, the plate remains in the chamber. When it has been exposed, the chassis is pushed back and the plate returns to its original place.

These small-scale versions of studio cameras developed into a new category of camera, the ‘folding camera’, soon referred to in technical literature as a ‘touriste’, whose development accompanied that of the tourism encouraged by the velocipede and railway travel. With detectives, binoculars and other spying devices, they were part of the development of the snapshot.

Kodak no. 1' box camera (1888) by George Eastman, Eastman Kodak CompanyMusée des arts et métiers

Kodak No1 box Camera

George Eastman launched this pocket camera in the United States in 1888. The ‘Kodak’ box camera had a shutter and was loaded with flexible film enabling the user to take some hundred photographs. It was childishly simple to use (‘You press the button, we do the rest’), consisting of three movements: pulling the cord to cock the shutter, turning the key to wind the next length of unexposed film in front of the lens, then pressing the shutter release. But the user still had to frame the subject and maintain the camera perfectly still for the photograph.

Paul Nadar, the Kodak Company’s agent in Paris, made the laboratory of the Office Général de Photographie available to the public for developing pictures and reloading the camera. The director of the American Museum of Photography in Philadelphia donated this camera in 1962.

Photoret' spy camera (1893) by Magic Introduction CompanyMusée des arts et métiers

Photoret spy camera

The Photoret, described as a ‘magazine snap-shot camera’, is a miniaturised ‘spy camera’. As described in one specialist magazine, ‘You show it to a friend, you press on the imitation winder to release the shutter and you have the portrait of the said friend’.

Made in the United States by the Magic Introduction Company in New York, it was shown to the Société Française de Photographie in 1894 and was very probably marketed by the Comptoir Général de Photographie, directed by Léon Gaumont, in Paris. This ingenious ‘photographic toy’ aroused curiosity and the Photoret soon became all the rage with French amateur photographers.

This Photeret, in the Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers since 1926, was formerly in Gabriel Cromer’s famous collection.

Leica I' 35mm camera (Circa 1930) by Oskar Barnack, Ernst Leitz GmbHMusée des arts et métiers

Leica l' 35 mm camera

Designed by Oskar Barnack and made by the German firm Leitz from the mid-1920s, the Leica uses 24 × 36 mm movie film instead of 18 × 24 film. The 1.6-metre length of film it contains enables thirty-six photographs to be taken without reloading. The camera’s very small size means users can have it constantly on them, and its shutter mechanism can take photographs in rapid succession.

The Leica had so many advantages that in 1935 contemporaries asked themselves why it was not used more: ‘We have seen how long it has taken for it to establish itself in our country. Here we have seen it used by amateurs for two to three years at most, above all by Japanese people. Why?’ Yet the Leica was adopted en masse by demanding professional and amateur photographers, and Leitz has continued expanding its benchmark range, successfully negotiating the transition to digital photography.

Polaroid 95A instant picture camera (1954) by Edwin Herbert Land, Polaroid CorporationMusée des arts et métiers

Polaroid 95A Instant picture camera

The Polaroid 95A is an instant self-developing camera first marketed in 1954 by the Polaroid Corporation, the American firm founded by Edwin Herbert Land in 1937.

This model succeeded the Polaroid 95, designed by Land in 1948. Its system was inspired by laboratory-type view cameras made as early as 1850, which gave the operator the possibility of using the chamber to both expose and develop the plate after taking the photograph.

Land’s innovation was to automate the process. This camera was offered to the Musée des Arts et Métiers in 1961 by the Polaroid Corporation, which Maurice Daumas, well aware of its spectacular properties, thanked as follows: ‘In our photography section, we are happy […] to be able to present a camera as original as the Polaroid, with which we will be able to give public demonstrations during guided tours of this section.’

Kodak DCS (Digital Camera System) (1991) by Eastman Kodak CompanyMusée des arts et métiers

Kodak DCS (Digital Camera System)

Electronic imagery first appeared in research laboratories in the 1980s. By the turn of the 21st century, the revolution in photographic practice that would spell the gradual end of silver-based photography was well underway.

Combining the potentialities of computer science and photography, it enabled an entirely new treatment of the image: its storage in miniaturised memories, its modification by data processing and its cloning without information loss. In 1991 Kodak produced its Digital Camera System for professionals. It comprised a Nikon reflex camera, whose back has been replaced by Charge Coupled Device sensors, and a temporary digital storage unit connected to a computer. The image formed on the photographic lens is projected onto sensors (photoelectric cells) replacing the silver-based film’s light-sensitive surface, which are then analysed and converted into digital data.

Translucent mask for phantasmagoria : skull (Beginning of the 19th century) by Étienne Gaspard Robert, known as RobertsonMusée des arts et métiers

Translucent mask for phantasmagoria : skull

During the French Revolution, Étienne Gaspard Robert, who called himself Robertson, dreamed up a phantasmagorical show combining the startling effects of electricity with those of the magic lantern. Copper figures were projected by means of a megascope. They were painted in light, matte colours and jointed with wire and rods that were blackened in order to remain invisible during the show. Robertson made walking ghosts appear.

A canvas mask, made transparent by the application of wax, was lit from behind by an oil lamp, making it looks as though a ghost were looming up out of nowhere.

"The aim of phantasmagoria is to familiarise people with extraordinary objects," Robertson noted in his memoirs. "I have offered spectres. I will [now] make famous shadows appear."

"Robespierre," wrote the Courrier des Spectacles, "comes out of his grave and tries to stand up […] lightning strikes him, reducing the monster and his grave to dust. More beloved shadows soften the scene: Voltaire, Lavoisier, Rousseau appear one after the other; holding his lantern, Diogenes looks for a man and, in order to find him, crosses the rows, so to speak, rudely frightening the ladies, much to the delight of everybody in the audience. The optical effects look so real that people think they can touch these approaching objects."

Chronophone' cinematographic projection device (1910) by Léon Gaumont, Léon Frély, Georges and Gustave Laudet, René DecauxMusée des arts et métiers

L'image animée

Photobioscope (Circa 1867) by Gaëtan Bonelli, Henri Cook, Eugène DeschiensMusée des arts et métiers


In 1865 Gaëtan Bonelli registered a patent for ‘the application of microscopic photography to the effects of animated images, called Biophotography’. The apparatus’s principle was based on that of the phenakistoscope.

It was not until 1867, however, that Henry Cook, in his and Bonelli’s name, demonstrated an optical device for viewing of stereoscopic pictures in motion to the Société Française de Photographie. His ‘Photobioscope’ combined the effects of the phenakistoscope and photography. A glass disc with two series of stereoscopic photographs of the same subject, taken successively from different angles, is placed in the instrument and animated with a circular motion driven by the crank. Looking through the eyepieces the viewer sees the subject moving in relief. Although conceived as an entertainment, this device could also be used to measure the persistence of vision.

Stereoscopic Binocular Praxinoscope (1907) by Émile ReynaudMusée des arts et métiers

Stereoscopic Binocular

In 1907 Émile Reynaud registered a patent for ‘an apparatus for continuous sequences and vision without eclipses producing animated stereoscopic images’, which he called the Binocular Praxinoscope. The device creates ‘the animated stereoscopic illusion’ due to its great precision in the succession of images and absence of intermittences in vision.

Two series of photographic stereoscopic views, taken successively with a cinematographic camera, are reflected by flat mirrors on two drums opposite one another revolving on the same axis. Looking through the eyepiece, borrowed from the stereoscope, and turning the drums with the crank, both relief and animation effects are perceived.

This model, which very probably remained merely a prototype, was donated to the Conservatoire in 1926.

Chronophotographic gun (1882) by Étienne Jules Marey, Otto LundMusée des arts et métiers

Chronophotographic gun

As part of his work on human and animal locomotion, physiologist Etienne-Jules Marey used photography instead of graphic methods to illustrate stages of movement. Graphic methods based on chronography had proved of considerable interest despite sometimes inaccurate results.

Inspired by the work of Eadweard Muybridge and Jules Janssen, Marey invented the photographic gun to study the flight of birds and bats, reducing exposure times by using silver-bromide gelatine.

The gun, equipped with a shutter and a circular magazine containing the photosensitive surfaces, took photographs at the rate of 12 frames a second, recording all the consecutive images on a single plate. Marey then used the pictures to study the locomotion of horses, donkeys, dogs, other animals and humans.

Chronophotographic view made with Chronophotographic gun "Bird in flight" (1880/1888) by Étienne Jules MareyMusée des arts et métiers

Chronophotographic view

As part of his work on human and animal locomotion, physiologist Etienne-Jules Marey used photography instead of graphic methods to illustrate stages of movement. Graphic methods based on chronography had proved of considerable interest despite sometimes inaccurate results.

Inspired by the work of Eadwaerd Muybridge and Jules Janssen, Marey invented the photographic gun to study the flight of birds and bats, reducing exposure times by using silver-bromide gelatine.

The gun, equipped with a shutter and a circular magazine containing the photosensitive surfaces, took photographs at the rate of 12 frames a second, recording all the consecutive images on a single plate. Marey then used the pictures to study the locomotion of horses, donkeys, dogs, other animals and humans.

The Lumière cinematograph (1894) by Auguste et Louis Lumière, Jules CarpentierMusée des arts et métiers

The Lumiere cinematograph

In 1895 the Lumière brothers patented the cinematograph, a "device serving to obtain and view chronophotographic prints", which was sold by Jules Carpentier.

The moving pictures followed each other in intervals exactly equal to those between the exposures when the shots were taken, creating a startling impression of reality. In addition to the invention's entertaining character, contemporaries soon imagined applications in the arts and sciences.

The Lumière brothers gave the museum this machine in 1897, but a cinema gallery was not created until 1927, when Louis loaned a prototype of his famous camera before donating it. The museum recently acquired a cinematograph made by Jean-Baptiste Tabary, an employee in the Carpentier workshops, that may have been a prototype for the mass-produced model.

Chronophone' cinematographic projection device (1910) by Léon Gaumont, Léon Frély, Georges and Gustave Laudet, René DecauxMusée des arts et métiers

Chronophone' cinematographic projection device

This cinematographic projection device, whose initial model was first shown in 1902, achieved the synchronisation of image and sound. In 1904 an article in La Nature proclaimed: ‘Now that speech has just been added to animated projection, it still lacks relief, which we will soon see is easy to obtain, and then all we will lack is colour’.

Besides fulfilling all the requirements of cinematography and projection, this system did not hinder the performance of the actors, who did not have to stay close to the phonograph while the scene was being recorded. Sound is reproduced by a compressed-air amplifier, so the machine could be used in large theatres such as the Gaumont-Palace. The phonograph’s twin turntables also enabled continuous long-duration listening.

This model was used at the Académie des Sciences in 1910 for the projection, organised by Jules Carpentier, of a talking film featuring the physicist Arsène d’Arsonval.

Pathé-Baby' movie camera (1926) by André Merle, Établissements ContinsouzaMusée des arts et métiers

Pathé-Baby' movie camera

In the 1920s Pathé-Cinéma produced the small Pathé-Baby movie camera and a projector comparable to professional equipment. Their easy use, range of accessories and the marketing of a library of films and cartoons did much to bring cinema into the home. The economic 9.5 millimetres film format helped reduce costs and was crucial in the growth of amateur filmmaking. In the laboratory, the film’s development produced a direct positive image using non-corrosive, powdered products.

Success was immediate, with a journalist writing in La Nature in 1926: ‘Already last summer, on beaches, at health resorts and in the country, many amateurs have filmed charming little scenarios that they edited themselves this winter and showed to their families to the delight of young and old.’

Experimental television receiver (1931) by René Barthélemy, Compagnie des compteursMusée des arts et métiers

Experimental television receiver

The first ‘radiovision’ broadcasts were made twice a week from the École Supérieure des PTT, created in 1933 under the directorship of René Barthélemy, head of the Compagnie des Compteurs’ Experimental Television Centre at Montrouge.

At the École Supérieure d’Électricité in Malakoff in April 1931, Barthélemy organised the first demonstration of television in France. He had devised a synchronised electromechanical procedure based on the analysis and reproduction of the image by line-by-line and point-by-point scanning using a Nipkow disc. Light variations are transformed into electrical current by photoelectric cells. The image is then transmitted by electromagnetic waves. Barthélemy developed his procedure, improving image definition from 30 to 60 then 180 lines. But this electromechanical system soon reached its limits, and the development of cathode-ray tubes and electronic image analysers opened the way for television’s commercial exploitation.

Visiodyne-Baby' 180-line amateur television receiver (1936) by Marc Chauvierre, André SerfMusée des arts et métiers

Visiodyne-Baby' 180-line amateur television receiver

The Visiodyne-Baby is a cathode ray tube television receiver with a definition of 180 lines. The image is viewed through a magnifying lens 16 centimetres in diameter, enlarging it to postcard size.

This receiver, manufactured by the engineer Marc Chauvierre, was one of a number of devices sold in kit form to radio and television enthusiasts, termed at the time ‘radiovision’ equipment.

In 1932 Chauvierre wrote in Ferrix Magazine: ‘Now that radiotelephony is interesting amateur enthusiasts less and less and increasingly satisfying listeners, television has arrived just in time to give free rein to the ingenuity and skill of researchers.’

The Visiodyne-Baby was one of the receivers most acclaimed for the simplicity of its design.

Pathé-Marconi - His Master's Voice T254 television receiver (1954) by Pathé-MarconiMusée des arts et métiers

Pathé-Marconi Television

Only 10% of the French population could receive television broadcasts in 1953, but between 1952 and 1954 the number of television sets increased fivefold – their price was then around 150,000 old francs or approximately 3,000 euros. The live broadcast of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation on 2 June 1953 boosted television sales, and the special Paris-London link that had to be created for the occasion was also a major technical feat.

Televisual cooperation between France, the United Kingdom, Holland, Germany and Belgium involved standardising broadcast specifications. The technical characteristics of this 819-line television set highlight these economic stakes.

The 819-line standard, devised by the engineer Henri de France, was adopted by the French government in 1948, unlike other European countries who broadcast in 625 lines.

Voxia carbon microphone (1925) by AnonymousMusée des arts et métiers

Le son

Tin-foil phonograph, known as the demonstration phonograph (1878) by Thomas Alva Edison, E. HardyMusée des arts et métiers

Tin-foil phonograph

The French public first saw Edison's phonograph at the 1878 Universal Exhibition. The operator wrapped tin foil around a cylinder, cranking it while shouting into a mouthpiece containing the same kind of membrane used in Alexander Graham Bell's telephone. The sound's vibrations moved a steel needle that etched grooves into the foil. The now-recorded voice was amplified and played back by means of a megaphone placed on the mouthpiece.

"It is impossible to realize what an amazing impression the little voice crackling out of the instrument made without hearing it; you are doubtful until the last second, and when the distinct, though weak, sounds reach the ear, you feel astonished and satisfied […]," wrote a journalist in La Nature in 1878.

Le Céleste cylinder phonograph (1900) by Manufacture française d'appareils de précision, Émile LabrelyMusée des arts et métiers

Le Céleste cylinder phonograph

This large phonograph has an extraordinary glass horn producing its crystalline sound, and its sophisticated mechanism is housed in its beautifully made wooden case. It was shown at the Universal Exposition in 1900, where its maker received an award for the quality of his products.

Admired by Aimé Laussedat, director of the Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers and chairman of the jury of the exhibition’s precision instruments section, the phonograph was donated to the Musée des Arts et Métiers, where it was displayed with its parts to highlight the construction procedures largely devised by Émile Labrely, engineer of the Manufacture Française d’Appareils de Précision. Labrely also invited Laussedat to visit the factory so that he could examine the fabrication techniques he was developing there.

Magnetic tape recorder (Circa 1930) by Kurt Stille, Marconi's Wireless Telegraph CompanyMusée des arts et métiers

Magnetic tape recorder

Valdemar Poulsen pioneered the recording and reproduction of sound on magnetised steel wire, creating his Telegraphone in 1898. Kurt Stille furthered this research, benefitting from the development of amplification systems in the 1920s. Marconi’s Wireless Telegraph Company took over his patents and produced this steel tape recorder, whose 3,000-metre reels could record half an hour of sound.

Although the loud background hiss it generated severely hampered listening quality, it was used by a number of radio stations, notably by France’s National Radio Recording Centre for broadcasting programmes and creating sound archives. Eugène Huguenard, who taught telephonovision at the Conservatoire, used this tape recorder, formerly at the Radiodiffusion Française (RDF), for practical work.

Voxia carbon microphone (1925) by AnonymousMusée des arts et métiers

Voxia carbon microphone

Derived from David Hughes’ experiments in 1878 and telephone transmitters, carbon contact microphones were used by numerous radio stations in the 1920s and ’30s.

Amateurs also appreciated their low cost and easy use.
These microphones could be plugged directly into the pick-up socket of a radio receiver without additional amplifying lamps. The most high-performance carbon microphones used the ‘transverse-current’ produced by two electrodes, which passes over a very thin coating of carbon granules on a relatively large surface. However, they still lacked fidelity in reproducing the human voice, and were soon superseded by electrodynamic ribbon microphones and the piezoelectric systems that emerged in the 1930s.

TMR 'Super-Reaction' mono-tube radio receiver (1924) by Victor RayerMusée des arts et métiers

TMR 'Super-Reaction' monotube radio receiver

This radio receiver marked a major step forward for amateur radio enthusiasts. The simplicity of its construction, defined by Armstrong in 1922, enabled the production of miniaturised, portable and easy-to-use models. Its high-power short-wave reception made it possible to listen to stations worldwide ‘graphically’ with headphones, European stations ‘phonically’ and regional stations via the loudspeaker. Amateurs praised its reception quality: ‘I obtained results receiving English, Belgian and German stations on the headphones, and I had marvellous sound from Radio-Paris without interference or fading, better than with a 4-tube receiver.’

This model was presented at a lecture organised by the Radio-Club de France at the Sorbonne in December 1925, chaired by René Barthélemy and Édouard Belin. It was acquired in 1962, when Maurice Daumas was planning the reorganisation of this section of the museum.

Microdion' mono-tube miniature radio receiver (1921) by Horace HurmMusée des arts et métiers

Microdion' mono-tube miniature radio receiver

Horace Hurm excelled in the construction of miniature radio receivers whose performance rivalled that of ordinary sets. In 1914 he designed the smallest-ever radio receiver, the Ondophone, then, in the 1920s, the Microdion, ‘the smallest, most sensitive and least expensive of all wireless telephony and telegraphy devices’, which could receive broadcasts from the Eiffel Tower without an antenna.

Hurm’s radio receivers were acclaimed when he showed them at the TSF’s first exhibition in Paris in 1922: ‘Who has not heard of his ondophone, his microdion, his microposte and so many other models of various kinds that fit in the hand or pocket yet which enable listening over great distances?

His remarkable results were achieved by his in-depth study of each of the receiver’s components and their precise placement. The interior of these receivers is a veritable work of art.’

Model 2514 radio receiver (1927) by PhilipsMusée des arts et métiers

Model 2514 radio receiver

This radio receiver, produced by the Dutch company Philips at the beginning of the 1930s, was designed for home use.

One of its interesting technical innovations is the power supply housed in the case, which allowed the device to be connected to an electrical socket. Thus this system freed the listener from using cumbersome batteries and often complex connections. The transformer, integrated into the device’s envelope, also powered the loudspeaker’s electromagnetic motor.

The modern and elegant lines of this cast-iron and Bakelite (or ‘Philite’) radio receiver, christened the ‘Paladin’, were designed by Louis Christiaan Kalff, who also designed the Philips’ logo.

Swan's neck' loudspeaker with electromagnetic motor (1924) by Constructions électro-mécaniques d'AsnièresMusée des arts et métiers

Swan's neck' loudspeaker

Radio enthusiasts developed the electrodynamic loudspeaker in the 1930s.

Its acoustic process provided high-quality, undistorted listening over a wider frequency range, particular in low frequencies. The coil of the motor that powers this loudspeaker is placed in an electromagnetic field generated by a powerful electromagnet. The motor transforms the electromagnetic waves into mechanical vibrations that act on a membrane to reproduce the sound.

This model comes from the Conservatoire’s telephonovision chair, whose professor, Eugène Huguenard, perfected the electrodynamic loudspeaker by concentrating on the design of the diffuser.

Reversible telephone (Circa 1880) by Alexander Graham Bell, Antoine BreguetMusée des arts et métiers

Les télécommunications

The optical telegraph (Circa 1815) by Claude ChappeMusée des arts et métiers

The optical telegraph

In 1792 Chappe demonstrated his telegraph for the Convention Nationale, the legislative body that governed France during the First Republic. In a matter of minutes it sent government orders to the furthest reaches of the land and ensured the coordination of troops by relaying coded optical signals between semaphores 25 kilometres apart.

Each semaphore had a mast with a pivoting regulator and two moving arms. Each arm had copper blades that could take eight positions; seven were actually used, allowing a combination of 196 different signals corresponding to a specific vocabulary developed by Chappe.

The first line, between Paris and Lille, began operating in 1794 and the network was completed in 1830. The arrival of electricity soon afterward signalled the end of Chappe's system, although Alphonse Foy's electric telegraph gave the code a reprieve for a few years.

Electrical dial telegraph (1841) by Charles Wheatstone, Louis Clément BreguetMusée des arts et métiers

Electrical telegraph

The electric dial telegraph, designed by Charles Wheatstone in 1838, indicates the letters of the alphabet using a keyboard, transmitting and/or receiving them at a speed of thirty per minute. A bell announced the arrival of a dispatch.

This telegraph went into service on the Paris–Rouen railway in 1845, and was principally used to signal a train’s departure.

This example, made by the Breguet company, was donated by the Compagnie de l’Ouest at the requestx of Arthur Morin. When Wheatstone visited the museum’s physics gallery, he was surprised by the absence of the devices he thought he had donated. Morin contacted the Compagnie de l’Ouest, which fortunately had kept this historic equipment in its storerooms, and the gift filled this ‘very regrettable’ gap in the collections.

Electric telegraph with dial and keyboard (Circa 1850) by Paul Gustave FromentMusée des arts et métiers

Electrical telegraph with dial and keyboard

In 1851 the scientific instrument maker Paul Gustave Froment presented this electric telegraph transmitter and receiver to the Société d’Encouragement pour l’Industrie Nationale.

Its innovative feature was its keyboard. Each of the message’s consecutive letters and numbers typed on the transmitter keyboard is indicated for a fraction of a second by the hand, powered by an electromagnet, on the dial. In a report submitted to the society, Claude Pouillet wrote: ‘The transmission of a dispatch is executed rather like a piece of music on a keyboard instrument.’

According to Baron Séguier, chairman of the Electric Telegraph Commission, this telegraph was the simplest and most perfect, and Froment was indeed renowned for the quality and precision of his apparatuses.

Box of terrestrial and submarine telegraph cable samples (1866) by Rattier & CieMusée des arts et métiers

Box of terrestrial and submarine telegraph cable samples

The acquisition of these terrestrial and submarine cable samples, donated to the Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers by the Rattier company in 1866, highlights the advances achieved by French industry in this growing communications sector during the Second Empire. To meet the challenges posed by communications networks in major towns and cities, and international submarine links, industrialists sought to facilitate the laying of cables, to improve their long-term conservation and ensure the optimum transmission of electrical signals.

Rattier’s innovative cable fabrication techniques overtook those of English manufacturers and established the superiority of French cables. Their twisted copper wire was enveloped with cotton thread, tarred ribbon and gutta-percha. They could be replaced section-by-section using a system of coupling sleeves. Rattier was awarded a gold medal for these innovations by the Société d’Encouragement pour l’Industrie Nationale in 1867.

Autographic telegraph, known as the 'Pantelegraph' (1861) by Giovanni Caselli, Paul Gustave FromentMusée des arts et métiers

Autographic telegraph, know as the 'Pantelegraph'

Caselli’s autographic telegraph transmitted facsimiles, drawings and handwritten texts. The dispatch was written with insulating ink on tin foil scanned by a stylus. At the reception point a stylus moved across a sheet of paper coated with a chemical solution; the electrical current produced a chemical reaction, revealing the sent message. The movement of the styluses was controlled by two regulating chronometers at the transmission and reception stations, synchronised by electromagnets. The price of a transmission was set at a prohibitive 20 centimes per square centimetre, and only two lines were installed.

The device was unsuccessful and the system abandoned. ‘The Caselli telegraph is now merely a museum piece, a memorable example of the fate awaiting the most ingenious inventions when they do not cater for any real need,’ a journalist wrote in Caselli’s obituary. Yet the Pantelegraph was a precursor of the fax machine …

Reversible telephone (Circa 1880) by Alexander Graham Bell, Antoine BreguetMusée des arts et métiers

Reversible telephone

Europe discovered Graham Bell’s telephone at the Universal Exposition of 1878. The scientific instrument maker Antoine Breguet had presented the device to the Académie des Sciences a few months earlier.

Although initially perplexed by the simplicity of its principle, scientists were fascinated by Bell’s telephone. It was now possible to hear, understand and even recognise someone’s voice at a distance of several thousand kilometres, linked merely by a single telegraph wire. The voice makes a sheet of metal vibrate in front of a magnet surrounded by electric wire. The membrane makes the magnet move, which modifies the magnetic field and creates an electric current. The principle is reversed and the voice is reproduced at the other end of the line.

Antoine Breguet’s widow, Marie Breguet, donated these telephones to the Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers in 1884.

Type PP4A portable damped wave transmitter/receiver for military telegraphy (1916) by Fernand Ducretet, Ernest RogerMusée des arts et métiers

Type PP4A portable damped wave transmitter/receiver for military telegraphy

Founded in 1864, the Ducretet workshops specialised in the construction of precision instruments, particularly electrical devices.

Eugène Ducretet equipped laboratories, schools and universities. His close relations with scientists enabled him to publicise their discoveries by making and marketing the equipment for replicating their experiments. In 1898 he turned his attention to Hertzian wave wireless telegraphy, which became one of his specialities. In 1908 he installed experimental radio stations in Paris to conduct tests and designed mobile transmitter/receivers for military radiotelegraphy.

His successors, Fernand Ducretet and Ernest Roger, continued to supply military telegraph and telephone equipment to the army during the First World War. In the 1920s they contributed to the development of radio broadcasting.

U43 universal dial telephone (Circa 1945) by Société des téléphones EricssonMusée des arts et métiers

U43 universal dial telephone

The 1943 or U43 ‘universal’ dial telephone was made by the Société des Téléphones Ericsson, the French subsidiary of the Swedish Laars Magnus Ericsson company.

It was designed to meet the French Post, Telegraph and Telecommunications administration’s specifications for the construction of a telephone compatible with both automatic and manual telephone networks, with a low production cost and minimum use of metals, particularly copper. Its black Bakelite body was moulded, and a cream-coloured ‘luxury’ version was later offered to subscribers. Its reliable components were used in subsequent models.

There were two different models, one for subscribers linked to an automatic exchange, the other for subscribers linked to a manually operated exchange: the U43 wall model, with a dial, allowed the number to be dialled directly without recourse to an operator; the mobile U43 without a dial put callers directly through to the operator as soon as they picked up the receiver. The U63 model superseded the U43 in French homes in 1963.

The Bi-Bop mobile phone (1993) by France Télécom, SagemMusée des arts et métiers

The Bi-Bop mobile phone

In 1993 France Télécom created the experimental Bi-Bop phone network in Strasbourg, Lille and Paris. Users could make and receive calls if they were in an area covered by a radio transmitter, to which they had to connect first. Blue, white and green stickers on drainpipes and electric poles identified the transmitters' location.

France Télécom offered the service on attractive terms: consumers paid much less for Bi-Bop, including the mobile phone, than for GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) system. But GSM was more efficient and easier for users, who did not have to be near a transmitter. The system was a commercial failure, France Télécom discontinued service in 1997 and GSM became the mobile telephony standard.

Minitel Télic terminal (1985) by Alcatel-LucentMusée des arts et métiers

Minitel Télic terminal

Minitel, developed by the Post and Telecommunications ministry, was a specifically French innovation in telematics (accessing and receiving information via telephone network). It was installed experimentally in homes in Ille-et-Vilaine in 1981, where it replaced the printed telephone directory, then at Vélizy, where it also provided classified advertisement and messaging services. Via the terminal, companies and private subscribers could access videotext (Télétel) services offered by government and commercial providers.

By 1985 more than a million terminals were in use. But the Minitel was supplanted by the Internet, which soon exposed the Télétel technology’s limitations. The Minitel network was still registering connections in 2012, the year it was ended by France Télécom.

Thomson TO7/70 microcomputer (1984) by ThomsonMusée des arts et métiers

Thomson T07/70 microcomputer

The Thomson TO7/70 microcomputer was marketed in 1984, in parallel to the MO5. This model followed the TO7, produced in 1982, one of whose innovations, the light pen, allowed drawing or interaction with software directly on the screen. It also had a built-in cassette player for reading or recording programmes written in BASIC, a programming language.

This range of computers belonged to the first generation of microcomputers developed to encourage the use of computers in the home. It has the ‘TO’ (télé-ordinateur) prefix because the central processing unit could be connected to a television set via a SCART plug, so that a dedicated computer monitor was not necessary.

The TO7/70 and MO5 were chosen to equip schools as part of the ‘computers for all’ plan implemented by the French government in 1985 to encourage the use of computers in education and support the French computer industry.

Credits: Story

Conception et réalisation :

Musée des arts et métiers

Sources :

"Le Musée des arts et métiers. Guide des collections", sous la direction de Lionel Dufaux, éd. Artlys / Musée des arts et métiers, 2013.

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