By Musée des arts et métiers

Musée des arts et métiers

Quelques millénaires nous séparent des premiers bateaux à voile, des
chariots primitifs à traction animale. Il n'y a pourtant guère plus de
deux cents ans qu'apparaissent, avec la machine à vapeur, les premiers
véhicules à moteur. Toutes les étapes essentielles de cette révolution
des transports, le Musée des arts et métiers nous les présente, sur
terre, sur mer et dans les airs.

Swiss wheelbarrow (1818) by AnonymousMusée des arts et métiers

La traction humaine

Swiss wheelbarrow

It is difficult to precisely determine where and when the wheelbarrow was invented. Derived from the Latin word birota, the French term brouette designates a two-wheeled vehicle, yet the singlewheeled wheelbarrow became the norm from the Middle Ages onwards. In 1751 Diderot and d’Alembert’s Encyclopédie defined the wheelbarrow as a ‘small machine with the form of a cart that has only one wheel’.

Easy to handle and enabling one person to transport 100 kilos or more, the wheelbarrow could also be pushed along narrow paths. Although wheelbarrows were already in use during the construction of cathedrals in the 13th century, it seems to have been unknown in several French regions until the early 19th century. This model, formerly in the Academy of Agriculture and Forestry in Hohenheim, Stuttgart, bears testimony to the slow spread of use of the wheelbarrow in rural Europe in the 19th century.

Yoke for carrying buckets (Beginning of the 19th century) by AnonymousMusée des arts et métiers

Yoke for carrying buckets

Known in Mesopotamia and Egypt as early as 3500 BC, the yoke originated with the domestication and use of animals for agricultural work. Men could also use yokes like this one to carry heavy weights. Resting on the shoulders behind the neck, it efficiently spreads the weight and the carrier can easily lift weights of 25 kilos, such as buckets of water or milk. Despite the increasing mechanisation at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, the yoke was still widely used in agriculture for carrying commodities over short distances.

Rudge penny-farthing (1887) by D. Rudge & CoMusée des arts et métiers

Les vélos

Velocipede (Circa 1865) by Pierre and Ernest MichauxMusée des arts et métiers


This velocipede was one of the first models developed by Pierre Michaux before his association with the Olivier brothers in Michaux & Cie in 1868. It has a curved malleable cast-iron frame, a hand-operated lever brake and the famous pedals with their acorn-shaped counterweights. In France Pierre Michaux and his son Ernest were the first to adapt the pedal to the velocipede in the spring of 1861. The Olivier brothers’ influence later steered production towards lighter models with a straight rather than curved frame, in forged steel and with the pulley brake (based on the reduction of movement) patented by Michaux père in 1868. This Michaux velocipede is one of the earliest cycles in the museum. It was already included in the retrospective bicycle exhibition in 1906, just before it was acquired by the museum.

Velocipede (Circa 1867) by Clément AderMusée des arts et métiers


Visiting the 1867 Universal Exposition, Clément Ader noticed that the velocipede was all the rage in Paris. Believing that this means of locomotion had a bright outlook, he made many improvements: a hollow soldered sheet metal frame to decrease weight, hermetic siphon lubricators, rolling devices to reduce rubbing and delicate pedals with toe-clips. But Ader's most noteworthy idea was the application of a solid rubber strip on the wheels, which he patented in 1868. His velocipedes met with some success in the Toulouse area, where they were popular in races in which Ader himself took part. After 1870 he turned his attention from the velocipede to telephones and aviation. This Ader velocipede, which entered the Conservatoire des arts et métiers in 1893, is the only one in a French public collection.

The Otto bicycle (Circa 1880) by Edward C.F. Otto, Birmingham Small Arms Company LimitedMusée des arts et métiers

The Otto Bicycle

Englishman Edward C.F. Otto patented this bicycle with two front wheels in 1879-1880. The idea is ingenious: to provide transversal rather than longitudinal stability. The wheels are mounted on a load-bearing axle behind the seat, and the gears that transmit the movement to the wheels by two metal belts on pulleys are in the front. There is no handlebar: the rider steered the bicycle with two double handles on either side of the seat. The inner handle was pulled to operate the shoe brake and the upper handle was turned to disengage the belt by means of pinions on a toothed rim. To go around curves, the rider operated the brake on the side of the turn and disengaged the belt on the other side. Behind the seat, a safety bracket with a small wheel kept the bicycle from turning over.

Rudge penny-farthing (1887) by D. Rudge & CoMusée des arts et métiers

Rudge penny-farthing

In 1870, as the French velocipede industry was suffering from the war with Prussia, penny-farthing production grew considerably in England. To increase speed and lightness, manufacturers lightened the cycle’s structure and increased the diameter of the front drive wheel to obtain a higher gear ratio. However the dangers involved in riding the penny-farthing limited its use to sportsmen and acrobats. Hampered by these disadvantages, from 1890 this elegant machine was gradually superseded by a much more efficient competitor, the bicycle. This penny-farthing was made Daniel Rudge & Co., inventor of the ball bearing system he patented in 1878, which equipped the bicycles ridden by the French champion Charles Terront in his first races. Rudge gave the penny-farthing’s wheels the spoke system invented by James Starley – the father of the bicycle – to improve the wheel’s strength.

Acatène bicycle (Circa 1896) by La MétropoleMusée des arts et métiers

Acatène bicycle

The Parisian firm La Métropole marketed the Acatène bicycle brand from the mid-1890s. The term literally describes this bicycle’s ‘chainless’ transmission system. Since Henry J. Lawson had shown a rear-wheel chain-powered bicycle in 1879 manufacturers had been waging a fierce ‘chain war’. But the problem with this type of transmission was that it lacked sturdiness, and manufacturers sought other solutions, including this Acatène model, whose back wheel is driven by a system of conical gears. Although this system had some success in races in 1897 and 1898, it proved less effective at starts and uphill than chain-powered bicycles, still the norm today due to their simple maintenance and durability.

Meyer-Guilmet' bicycle (1868/1906) by Attributed to Eugène Meyer and André GuilmetMusée des arts et métiers

Meyer-Guilmet' bicycle

This curious machine entered the museum’s collection after the retrospective bicycle exhibition co-organised by the Touring-Club de France in 1906. At this event, it was presented as the first chain-driven bicycle, dated 1868 and attributed to the bicycle manufacturer Eugène Meyer, therefore as a French invention preceding that of the Englishman Henry J. Lawson by ten years.

Uncertainties as to its provenance, the absence of historic traces and the heterogeneous nature of its design and construction are still debated by experts unsure of its authenticity and dating. Meyer was renowned for the quality and finesse of his cycles. In 1869 he registered a patent for metallic wheels mounted under tension with retaining nuts on the flange of the hub. He also lightened the structure of his bicycles using hollow frames.

Dual Impact 1T mountain bike (1999) by PSA Peugeot CitroënMusée des arts et métiers

Dual impact 1T Mountain bike

‘Mountain biking’ developed in the mountains of north California in the early 1970s. The first models were manufactured in the United States then by Japanese firms. French manufacturers did not begin producing their own models until some ten years later, in 1983. Mountain biking developed considerably in the 1990s, both as a competitive sport and leisure activity, reflecting a new taste for nature, thrills and a certain spirit of adventure. Peugeot launched its first mountain bike, the VTT1 on the French market in 1987. The Dual Impact model has an aluminium frame, telescopic suspension fork and quite thick studded tyres. It has 24 gears and weighs approximately 13 kilos.

Vélib' terminal, bicycle and post (2007) by JCDecaux SAMusée des arts et métiers

Velib' terminal, bicycle and post

Vélib’ is the self-service bicycle sharing system that was launched in Paris on 15 July 2007 and in the inner suburbs in 2009. Cycling enables flexibility in the city dweller’s movements, has low ecological impact and the collective use of the bicycle in the urban environment has encouraged its combination with other forms of transport. France’s La Rochelle had the first city-run bicycle rental scheme in 1974, and the system is now in use in several countries. The Parisian Vélib’ system currently has the largest bicycle fleet in Europe (20,000 bicycles available at 1,202 stations) and averages 110,000 rentals per day. The JCDecaux company has registered numerous patents for its operating system and the security of the bicycle and its rider.

Type 4CV series M2E 'two seater' car (1896) by Panhard & LevassorMusée des arts et métiers


Fardier (1770) by Nicolas Joseph CugnotMusée des arts et métiers


In 1769 military engineer Nicolas Cugnot built the first vehicle able to move without animal power. A boiler alternately supplied two cylinders on either side of a single drive wheel with steam, exerting linear pressure on the pistons, which a system of ratchet wheels turned into movement. This mechanism, previously used in clockmaking, also allowed the vehicle to move backwards. Promising trials of a small prototype encouraged Cugnot to make another fardier, which could carry five tons at a speed of four km/h. In 1771 he abandoned the bold project, which had unleashed the passions of men like the artillery field marshal Marquis de Saint-Auban. "The craze for new things, Sirs, has been taken to a nearly unbelievable level," he wrote in a letter dated 1779. "The claim has even been made that fire machines set in motion by piston pumps can replace the horses and carriages that pull artillery."

L'Obéissante steam-powered omnibus, Amédée Bollée, 1873, From the collection of: Musée des arts et métiers
Show lessRead more


In 1873 Amédée Bollée, a bell founder by trade, built the first steam-powered mechanically propelled vehicle capable of transporting twelve passengers, a conductor and a driver. Baptised L’Obéissante (The Obedient) due to its very smooth steering, it was subsequently presented as the first high-speed automobile. With its tubular boiler, chain drive and two two-cylinder V-engines, it could maintain a speed of 30 km/h, reach 40 km/h and mount 12% gradients. On 9 October 1875, at the wheel of his creation, Amédée Bollée covered the 230 kilometres from Le Mans to Paris in 18 hours, including stops for water and meals. When he arrived in the capital, despite his triumphal welcome, the Paris constabulary booked Bollée some seventy-five times, but he was never prosecuted.

Peugeot Type 3 quadricycle (1892) by Les Fils de Peugeot Frères, Panhard & LevassorMusée des arts et métiers

Peugeot Type 3 quadricycle

Although the 1889 Universal Exposition will always be associated with the Eiffel Tower, it also marked the beginnings of the petrol-powered automobile. The German engineer Gottlieb Daimler showed a petrol engine, selling its production rights for France to Panhard & Levassor. By associating himself with this firm, Armand Peugeot could begin producing petrol-powered vehicles, the first of which was the Type 2 quadricycle, launched in 1891. Only four Type 2 quadricycles were sold but its successor, the Type 3, a four-seater version with passengers facing each other beneath a dais, had much more success. It was the first standardised car made by Peugeot. Sixty-four were produced at the factory at Valentigney.

The model on display bears the number thirteen. It was delivered in 1892 to Henri Menier, who had a radiator fitted to cool the engine. It is on display next to the Type 1 tricycle, the first Peugeot vehicle, with a Serpollet steam engine.

Type 4CV series M2E 'two seater' car (1896) by Panhard & LevassorMusée des arts et métiers

Type 4CV series M2E 'two seater' car

René Panhard and Émile Levassor, both graduates of the École Centrale des Arts et Manufactures, began working together on gas engines in 1873. Their firm, Panhard & Levassor, became one of the first makers of vehicles with internal combustion engines. This 1896 model is very similar to the first car, with a Daimler engine, that Levassor built in 1891. Five years later numerous improvements were added, including ignition by burner and carburation by jet, but it still had a chain transmission. The coachwork and parasol are wooden and the rubber wheel rims were optional.

This car, which could travel at 30 km/h, is an example of the pioneering production in the late 19th century, then dominated by France. It belonged to Emanuel Buxtorf, responsible for the modernisation of the hosiery industry in Troyes, and the first person in the Aube département to own an automobile.

English-made Ford Model T Torpedo (Circa 1911) by Ford Motor CompanyMusée des arts et métiers

English-made Ford Model T Torpedo

The people’s car par excellence, the Ford Model T marked the transition from the luxury, handcrafted vehicle to mass-production. In his large factory in Detroit, its creator, Henry Ford, pioneered a new organisation of work with assembly-line fabrication.

Mass-production of one simple model enabled Ford to reduce costs and market an affordable vehicle. Ford also standardised components to facilitate the vehicle’s production and maintenance. Designed to withstand the mainly dirt roads in the United States in the early 20th century, and nicknamed the ‘spider’ because of its wide wheelbase and high-slung chassis, it had excellent roadholding. To ‘democratise the automobile’, Ford made it robust and simple to drive, with an automatic gearbox, control levers and an easy switch from forward to reverse. The Model T was made from 1908 to 1927 and more than fifteen million were sold all over the world.

Hélica series D.21 no. 1 (1921) by Marcel LeyatMusée des arts et métiers

Hélica series D.21 no. 1

Engineer Marcel Leyat designed the Hélica, the only propeller-driven automobile that ever really worked, as a wingless airplane. The steering mechanism commanded the rear axle and a throttle controlled the speed. The Hélica's aerodynamic shape, light weight (225 kilograms), two-cylinder engine and four-blade propeller enabled it to travel up to 105 km/h. It consumed eight to nine litres per 100 kilometres. The vehicle in the museum, the first in the 1921 series, also had a commercial purpose: signs on the sides advertised "Gellycine, for your hands and face". But for financial and legal reasons, Leyat could not fill the 600 orders he received for his invention, including one from Spain's King Alphonse XIII.

Cross-section of the C6G saloon (1928/1931) by André Citroën SAMusée des arts et métiers

Cross-section of the C6G saloon

The C6 luxury saloon was the first Citroën automobile with a six-cylinder engine. Period advertisements highlight its quality, elegance and comfort but also the increased security provided by its ‘all-steel’ bodywork. Its powerful, smooth-running 48-horsepower engine was extremely quiet due to its finely balanced moving parts. Running at 2,700 revolutions/minute, it had excellent acceleration. Citroën exhibited this cut-away C6 for the first time at the 1928 Paris Motor Show, to reveal the car’s inner workings and construction. It was subsequently displayed in the window of the Citroën showroom on Place de l’Opéra. It returned to the Salon de l’Automobile twice with modifications, as the C6F in 1929 and as the C6G in 1931. After several months at the Palais des Expositions Citroën on Place de l’Europe in 1932, André Citroën donated it to the Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers.

Renault RE 40 Formula 1 car (1983) by Renault SportMusée des arts et métiers

Renault RE 40 Formula 1 car

This racing car was designed to compete in the 1983 Formula 1 Grand Prix season. Its carbon-fibre chassis has an extremely shock-resistant honeycomb structure. The RE 40’s 650-horsepower Renault Gordini EF1 V6 turbo engine is particularly powerful because it is supercharged: the air entering the engine is compressed by a turbo-compressor that optimises the filling of the cylinders and considerably increases the engine’s power. It was in this RE 40 that the French driver Alain Prost won the French, Belgian, British and Austrian Grand Prix to make the Renault Sport team vice-champion of the world in 1983.

The Columbia 121 locomotive (Beginning of the 20th century) by Victor Forquenot de La FortelleMusée des arts et métiers

Les chemins de fer

Locomotive with two axles (Middle of the 19th century) by Marc SeguinMusée des arts et métiers

Locomotive with two axles

The Ardèche-born engineer Marc Seguin’s locomotive underwent initial tests in 1829. It was one of the first to be equipped with the famous tubular boiler, so-named because the hot air transforms water into steam circulates in tubes within it. Seguin designed this machine because he was disappointed with the mediocre performance of a British locomotive he had bought. Exactly contemporary to the Englishman George Stephenson’s ‘Rocket’, Seguin’s locomotive travelled at 7 km/h in the engineer’s workshop in Lyon on 7 November 1829. Twelve of these locomotives were built, several of which went into service on the Lyon–Saint-Étienne line from 1831. The original locomotive no longer exists, but Gaston Lemonnier made a scale replica in 1987. Augustin and Louis Seguin (Marc Seguin’s son and grandson) bequeathed this model to the Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers in 1891.

Dual-axle locomotive (1833) by George Stephenson, Eugène PhilippeMusée des arts et métiers

Dual-axle locomotive

This is a scale model of one of the first two dual-axle Planet locomotives, introduced in France in 1833 to serve as examples for the Chaillot Workshops, the Périer brothers' former factory. The goal was for French manufacturers to base their locomotives on designs from England, especially by the trailblazing engineer George Stephenson, who made a name for himself during the 1829 Rainhill locomotive trials on the Liverpool-Manchester line. Meanwhile, illustrator César Nicolas Louis Leblanc drew four plans of the machine for the Portefeuille industrial du Conservatoire (inv. 13571.752). The model and drawings were presented at the same time that steam locomotives began operating on the Lyon-Saint-Étienne line, four years before the opening of the first Paris railway to Le Pecq, which was later extended to Saint-Germain-en-Laye.

Type 210 locomotive (1858) by Thomas Russell CramptonMusée des arts et métiers

Type 210 locomotive

In the late 1840s the British engineer Thomas Russell Crampton sought a means of reducing the left-right oscillation then dangerously affecting locomotive stability. His solution was to place the drive axle behind the engine, near the boiler, and give it wide-diameter wheels. During the conclusive first trials in 1846 the Namur and Liège locomotives reached speeds of 100 km/h. Although considered too aggressive by other continental railways, the Crampton locomotives were much appreciated in France. In 1848, the engineer Jules Petiet ordered several for the Northern Railway.

The performances of these ‘rail greyhounds’ in terms of speed and fuel consumption were excellent, but their weak adherence posed problems when drawing heavy trains. From the 1880s they were gradually replaced by locomotives with coupled drive axles.

The Columbia 121 locomotive (Beginning of the 20th century) by Victor Forquenot de La FortelleMusée des arts et métiers

The Columbia 121 locomotive

Victor Forquenot de La Fortelle, an engineer at the Compagnie du Paris-Orléans, developed around 20 very powerful locomotives. The Columbia 121 belongs to a series that entered production in 1876. It was probably intended to pull fast trains such as the Paris-Bordeaux or the Southern Express, which had an average of speed of 73.2 km/h, making it France's quickest train at the time.

Forquenot's 121, recognisable by its boiler plated in polished brass, proved to be of remarkable longevity. This one has been partly cut away to show the boiler's structure.

La Fusée electric locomotive (Circa 1913) by Jean-Jacques HeilmannMusée des arts et métiers

Fusée electric locomotive

In the late 19th century engineers began seeking new means of traction for locomotives such as petrol and compressed air engines. Jean-Jacques Heilmann put a prototype electric locomotive into service on the Eastern Railway, with a steam engine powering two generators driving eight traction motors. It was most likely baptised La Fusée (The Rocket) after Stephenson’s eponymous locomotive, holder of the first speed record in 1829. La Fusée covered over 1,900 kilometres, particularly on the Paris–Mantes line via Argenteuil, but its performances were mediocre and it had difficulty in reaching 100 km/h. Two other machines were built using the Heilmann principle by the Western Railway, but they had no successors.

TGV Prototype 001 (Circa 1975) by AlsthomMusée des arts et métiers

TGV Prototype 001

After the Second World War France conducted several high-speed trials in an effort to modernise its railway network. Modified standard trains reached 243 km/h in 1954 and 331 km/h in 1955. In the late 1960s the SNCF commissioned the Alsthom company to construct an experimental high-speed train. The TGV 001, tested from 1972, was powered by a gas turbine, first developed for helicopters and ada pted for ‘turbotrains’ from 1971. The TGV 001’s aerodynamic qualities were remarkable because its bogies, between the carriages, reduced their resistance to movement. The principle of the articulated train, successfully tested with this prototype, was used on all TGVs. The only major difference was the means of traction – electricity was finally chosen to power all the French TGVs.

Le Roi de Rome (1807/1811) by Attributed to the Arsenal of AnversMusée des arts et métiers

La navigation

Le Roi de Rome

Le Roi de Rome was named after the son of Emperor Napoleon I, born in 1811. It is not the replica of a ship that actually existed but an arsenal model built before the prince's birth and re-used as a gift on that occasion. At the time, arsenal models were important during the ship-building process. Outstanding craftsmanship, attention to detail, and original rigging and sails increase the singularity and value of this model of a ship with two decks and 80 cannons. Borda and Sané developed this class of warship in the late 18th century, a period marked by France's rivalry with England and its famous Royal Navy. It was armed for six months, carried a 900-man crew and had a capacity of 3,870 barrels.

Nile tug's steam engine (1866) by Société des Forges et Chantiers de la MéditerranéeMusée des arts et métiers

Nile tug's steam engine

At the Universal Exposition in 1867, the Société des Forges et Chantiers de la Méditerranée showed machines that were mostly destined for the construction of the Suez Canal. Due to its sheer scale, logistic constraints and geographic isolation, this huge project was an opportunity to devise and test specifically designed machines. The series of models shown in 1867 included huge dredgers used for earthmoving and paddle-driven tugs like this. Powered by a 120-horsepower steam engine, this type of vessel had fixed paddle wheels activated by two inclined cylinders driving a single crankshaft. This model was donated to the Musée des Arts et Métiers by the SFCM after the Universal Exposition.

The Fontinettes hydraulic boat lift (Circa 1880-1890) by Société Anonyme des Anciens Établissements Cail, Edwin ClarkMusée des arts et métiers

The Fontinettes hydraulic boat lift

Built between 1883 and 1887, the Fontinettes boat lift negotiated the Canal de Neufossé’s 13.13-metre level change between the Lys and Aa basins. This link between the North Sea and the large inland towns was crucial for trade, and the aim of the hydraulic lift was to reduce the two hours it took to climb the previous series of locks to twenty minutes.

It worked like a gigantic pair of scales, with two enormous pistons each supporting a caisson containing the vessels. The pistons were encased in two cylinders filled with water and linked via a tube a central valve. By adding weight in the caisson opposite the lock’s upper reach then opening the valve, the cylinder supporting this caisson descended while the other rose. The lift was closed to traffic in 1967 and replaced by a new lock.

France ocean liner (Circa 1920 - 1930) by Compagnie Générale TransatlantiqueMusée des arts et métiers

France ocean liner

Launched five days after the sinking of the Titanic in 1912, the France was the pride of the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique in the first third of the 20th century. At 210 metres long, it was then the largest French ocean liner and the only one with four funnels. Powered by four 45,000-horsepower turbines, it sailed from Le Havre to New York at the sustained speed of 22.8 knots (42 km/h). Only the Mauretania and Lusitania were faster. Nicknamed ‘the Versailles of the Atlantic’ due to its luxurious Louis XV-style interior decoration, the France was used as a troopship during the First World War. It returned to civil service from 1919 to 1932 and was scrapped in 1935 when the Normandie was launched.

The 1912 France should not be confused with its famous namesake launched in 1962, which finished its career as the Norway.

Hydroptère (1997) by Dassault Aviation, Alain ThébaultMusée des arts et métiers


This extraordinary trimaran was designed to ‘fly’ on water. When it reaches a certain speed its two immersed lateral hydrofoils raise the hull out of the water and therefore reduce its water resistance. Its hydrofoils function on the same principle as the wings of a plane, but this is not this yacht’s only characteristic borrowed from aeronautics. The mechanical resistance of its structure had to be very high, yet be both extremely light and limit stability problems.

Use of composite materials enabled the project’s realisation under the tutelage of Éric Tabarly, one of the pioneers of the tests carried out on this type of trimaran in the 1960s. Today the Hydroptère prototype has an on-board measurement system and has set numerous speed records.

R.U1 no. 40 biplane (1911) by Société Anonyme des Ateliers d'Aviation Louis BreguetMusée des arts et métiers

La conquête des airs

Aeroplane, called Avion no. 3 (1897) by Clément AderMusée des arts et métiers

Aeroplane called Avion no.3

On 9 October 1890 an odd-looking contraption called "Avion" left the ground of an estate in Armainvilliers and flew a few dozen metres. Few people witnessed the event but that did not stop the Ministry of War from giving the machine's inventor, Clément Ader, funds to carry on his work. On 14 October 1897, a bleak, windy day, he tested Avion no. 3, which erratically flew 300 metres before suddenly crashing. The ministry cut off funding and Ader had to give up his aeronautical experiments, even though he was convinced of aviation's military importance. He gave Avion no. 3 to the Conservatory in 1903. The plane attests to his observations on the flight and morphology of bats as well as to his thoughtful choice of materials to decrease its weight and improve its range. It had a boiler that supplied two 20-horsepower steam engines activating four-bladed propellers. The craft weighed 250 kilograms empty.

Breguet-Richet no. 1 gyroplane (1907) by Louis BreguetMusée des arts et métiers

Breguet-Richet no. 1 gyroplane

Louis Breguet, heir to the famous watchmaking dynasty, was convinced that vertical flight was the best way of solving the problem of bodies heavier than air. In the family factory at Douai, aided by his friend Professor Richet, he built a machine with four rotors 8 metres in diameter driven by a 40-horsepower Antoinette engine. The 540-kilogram prototype could only be manoeuvred vertically and had to be maintained in position by hand from the ground.

On 24 August 1907 it took off with a man on board. More trials confirmed its assisted lift to a height of 1.5 metres and the following year a second gyroplane enabled Breguet to register an initial patent for the cyclic angle of the propeller blades. The engineer then turned his attention to aviation. In 1935, with René Dorand, he finally built the first true helicopter, the ‘Laboratory gyroplane’, which won several altitude and speed records.

R.U1 no. 40 biplane (1911) by Société Anonyme des Ateliers d'Aviation Louis BreguetMusée des arts et métiers

R.U1 no. 40 biplane

In 1908 Louis Breguet abandoned helical winged flight to study and construct aeroplanes. In 1911, as the army was showing an increasing interest in aviation, with his brother Jacques he created the Louis Breguet company. The same year, the pilot Henri Brégi completed the first long-distance flight in Morocco, from Casablanca to Fez, in 2 hours 50 minutes with a passenger on board this military-type biplane.

The aircraft’s wooden fuselage is clad with canvas at the front. Its wings’ front edges are reinforced with aluminium and had a system of struts with flexible mounts patented by Breguet. The undercarriage has air-hydraulic springs and the aircraft is powered by an 80-horsepower Salmson Canton-Unné engine with seven cylinders in a star. The aircraft was slightly modified for the Moroccan flight: the upper wings were lengthened and the third seat was removed to make way for the load necessary for the mission. In 1912 the Breguet company donated the biplane to the Conservatoire to show recent progress in aviation.

Blériot XI aeroplane (1909) by Louis BlériotMusée des arts et métiers

Blériot XI aeroplane

Engineer Louis Blériot's automobile headlight company made him a very wealthy man in the early 20th century, but his real passion was aviation: he built 12 aeroplanes in around 10 years. Unfortunately, their poor performances earned him the nickname "the falling man". But on 25 July 1909 he had a rendezvous with history. At 4:41 that morning, he took off from Sangatte (Pas-de-Calais) aboard his Blériot XI.

Resembling a big, ungainly dragonfly skimming above the water's surface, the 310-kilogram, eight-metre long aircraft with a 7.20-metre wingspan and a three-cylinder fan-shaped Anzani engine sped towards the English coast at 60 km/h. The man and his machine flew from France to Great Britain in 32 minutes: at 5:13 that morning, "England was no longer an island". Blériot had just become the first person to cross the English Channel by plane.

The Ariane 5 rocket (1997) by Agence spatiale européenne, Fernand AntoineMusée des arts et métiers

The Ariane 5 rocket

In 1973 the European Space Agency (ESA) launched the Ariane programme with the aim of giving European countries the possibility of sending their satellites into orbit without depending on the United States or the Soviet Union. The first rocket took off from the base in Kourou, French Guyana in 1979. Since then, Ariane rockets have launched nearly 300 satellites. Since 1996, Ariane 5 has put satellites and heavy loads into low orbits (less than 2,000 kilometres altitude).

It has two solid-propellant strap-on boosters that provide most of the 1,200 tons of thrust at launching. The rocket is over five metres in diameter, allowing it to carry two satellites for a total load of 10 tons. Despite the failure of the first two flights, Ariane 5 has enabled Europe to remain the leader in the launching of commercial satellites, with a 50% market share.

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.

Banque d'images -

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Explore more
Related theme
Once Upon a Try
A journey of invention and discovery with CERN, NASA, and more than 100 museums around the world
View theme
Google apps