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Bertin, Louis-Émile

Bertin, Louis-Émile

(b. Nancy, France, 23 March 1840; d. La Glacerie, France, 22 October 1924)

naval architecture, hydraulics.

Bertin was the son of Pierre-Julien Bertin, a hosiery dealer, and Anne-Frédéric Merdier. He entered the École Polytechnique in 1858 and, after graduating in 1860, joined the Naval Engineering Corps. In 1862 Bertin finished his studies at the School of Naval Engineering in Paris. Assigned to the Cherbourg naval district, he proved to be an inventive engineer who had a good sense of the practical but at times lacked critical insight into the mathematical development of his thought.

In 1864 the French navy sought to improve the ventilation of its horse transport ships. In 1865 Bertin presented the winning design, which brought its inventor the Plumey Prize (2,500 francs) of the Academy of Sciences in 1873.

In 1866 Bertin produced artificial waves in calm water and measured the decrease of successive amplitudes. The following year he observed sea swells while aboard a ship, measured the roll by means of a simple recording apparatus he had made, and began to give his observations a mathematical form. In accordance with the course given at the School of Naval Engineering, he at first believed that the swell was a cylindrical surface with a sinusoidal section. At that time French engineers still did not know of Franz von Gerstner’s “Theorie der Wellen” (1804), even though it had been republished in 1809 by L. W. Gilbert in the Annalen der Physik. English engineers had long known of Gerstner’s trochoidal swell, and Bertin obtained his knowledge from references in their publications. Accordingly, he published a series of articles in the Mémoirés de la Société des sciences naturelles de Cherbourg. In order to complete his observations on shipboard, he ordered an oscillograph with two pendulums of different periods and used it, from 1872, to record swell and roll on the same band.

The Franco-Prussian War led to Bertin’s work on compartmentalization, the enduring part of his work as an engineer. In order to limit damage, he suggested protecting the horizontal compartment adjoining the waterline by combining armor plate with a cellular compartment. The first French-built compartmentalized cruiser was based on his plans.

In 1881 Bertin was sent to Brest, where he drew up the plans for a cruiser that attained a speed of eighteen knots, a world record at that time. He was placed at the disposal of the Japanese government from 1886 to 1890, and the ships he helped build enabled the Japanese navy to defeat the Chinese navy in 1894. Upon his return to France, Bertin served in Toulon and then in Rochefort, where he was appointed director of naval construction in 1892. From 1893 to 1895 he directed the School of Naval Engineering, and in November 1895 he became head of the Technical Department of Naval Construction of the Naval Ministry, a post he held until his retirement in 1905.


I. Original Works. Among Bertin’s books are Noticesur la marine à vapeur de guerre et de commerce depuis so norigine jusqu’en 1874 (Paris; 1875) État actuel de la marinede guerre (Paris, 1893), section de l’ingénieur, no. 42A of Encyclopédie scientifique des aide-mémoire, M. Léauté, ed.; La marine des États-Unis (paris, 1896); Chaudières marines, cours de machine à vapeur professé ä l’École d’application du génie maritime (Paris, 1896, 1902), trans. and ed. by Leslie S. Robertson as Marine Boilers, Their Constructionand Working, Dealing More Specially With Tubulous Boilers (London, 1898, 1906); Machines marines, cours de machines à vapeur professé à l’École d’application du génie maritime (Paris, 1899); Les marines de guerre à l’Exposition Universelle de 1900 (Paris, 1902); Évolution de la puissance défensive des navires de guerrre, avec un complément concernant la stabilityé des navires (Paris, 1907); and La marine moderne, ancienne historie et questions neuves (Paris, 1910, 1914).

His articles appeared in Mémories de la Société imperiale [nationale after 1871] des sciences naturelles [et matchématiques after 1879] de Cherbourg between 15 (1869–1870) and 31 (1898–1900); the Mémories présentés par divers savants à l’Académie des science… between 22 , no. 7 (1876) and 26 , no. 5 (1879); in Comptes rendus hebdomadairesdes séances de l’Académie des science between 69 (26 July 1869) and 158 (2 June 1914).

Also of value are Notes sur mes travaux scientifiques et maritimes (Cherbourg, 1879); three vols. With the title Notice sur les travaux de M. L. E. Bertin (Paris, 1884, 1885, 1896); and the autographed album “Projets de navires à flottaison cellulaire (1870–1873),” presented by Bertin to the library of the Institute in 1884.

II. Secondary Literature, Works containing information on Bertin are Barrillon, “Émile Bertin,” in Neptunia, no. 10 (2nd trimester 1948), 22–24; Henri Bouasse, Houle, rides, seiches et marées (Paris, 1924); Edgre de Geffroy “Bertin (Louis-Émile),” in Larousse mensuel illustré no. 216 (Feb. 1925), 691–692; E. Sauvage, “Louis Émile Bertin,” in Bulletin de la Société d’encouragement pour l’industrie nationale (June 1925), 438–459; and Togari, Louis-Émile Bertin. Son rôe dans la création de la Marine japonaise (n.p., 1935). Also used in preparing this article were the birth records for 1840 and the death records for 1843 of Nancy; the register of students of the École Polytechynique, IX, covering 1855–1862; Annuaire de la marineet des colonies for 1863–1870 and 1872–1889); État dupersonnel de la marine, décembre 1871 (Versailles, 1871); and Annuaire de la marine for 1890–1906.

Arthur Birembaut

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