Breguet, Louis François Cl

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Breguet, Louis François Clément

(b. Paris, Frances, 22 December 1804; d. Paris, 27 October 1883)


Breguet’s career can be understood only with a knowledge of the milieu in which he lived. His grandfather, Abraham, from Neuchâtel, was one of the best-known clockmakers of Paris; his shop was established as early as 1775. Louis’s father, Antoine, became Abraham’s partner in 1807. After spending some time in Neuchâtel with his godfather when he was about eight, Louis was apprenticed to Perrelet, in Versailles, for two years, and then joined his father and grandfather. From 1824 to 1827 he worked with Barral in Geneva in order to improve his craft, and upon his return to Paris worked on naval chronometers. His father, having little interest in Business, withdrew more and more to the country. Finally, in 1833, the enterprise was organized into a company and turned over to Louis and two other partners, one of whom was a cousin.

After 1830 Breguet turned to making electrical instruments, particularly precision apparatus. His first electric clocks date from 1839. In 1840 he devised a thermometer that registered temperature electrically, and recorded a temperature of —42° at Kazan, Russia. Work on induced currents with Antoine Masson in 1842 led to the creation of a genuine induction coil, a feat later ascribed to Heinrich Ruhmkorff in 1851. In 1843 Breguet created, for François Arago, an apparatus with a revolving mirror, which could attain a speed of 9,000 rps, for measuring the speed of light. It was used in Fizeau’s experiments.

Breguet was then named designer-manufacturer to the Bureau des Longitudes. He gave a definitive form to the Wheatstone dial plate adopted by French rail roads and constructed the Foy-Broguet instrument used in the French telegraphic system. In 1856 Breguet’s firm made the first clocks to transmit time electrically.

In 1873 his son, Antoine, became his partner, and the Breguets turned to electrotechnics, then in its infancy: the company produced Daniell and Leclanché batteries, arc lamps, and Gramme dynamos. Metal thermometers, barometers, and manometers were made, as were very small, experimental aluminum helicopters for Antoine Pénaud, a pioneer in aeronautics. In 1876 Cornelius Roosevelt, representing Bell in Paris, put the Breguet firm in charge of setting up the French telephone system. The first Exposition Internationale d’Électricité was opened in Paris in 1881, and Antoine Breguet was the director of the installation services. Before his death Antoine collaborated with Charles Richet in founding the Revue scientifique (1881), an important journal during the next forty years. (It was the famous “Revue rose”.) On 1 January 1882, Louis Breguet retired, leaving his son in charge, but within two years both had died.


I. Original Works. Breguet’s most important works are Mémoire sur l’induction…(…préenté á l’Académie des Sciences le 23 août 1841) (Paris, 1842), written with Antoine Masson; Télégraphic électrique, son avenir. Poste aux lettres électriques. Journaux électriques; suivi d’un aperçu théorique de télégraphie (Paris, 1849), written with Victor de Seré Manuel de la télégraphie électrique ā l’usage des employés des chemins de fer (Paris, 1851; 2nd ed., 1853; 3rd ed., 1856; 4th ed., 1862): Notice sur les appareils magnéto–électiques brevetés de Breguet et sur leur application ā l’ explosion des torpilles et des mines en général (Paris, 1869); and Catalogue illustré. Appareils et matériaux pour la télégraphie électrique, instruments divers, électricité, Physique, mécanique, météorologie, physiologie, etc. (Paris, 1873). For lists of his publications, see Tables générales des comples–rendus des séances de l’ Académie des sciences… 1835–1850 (Paris, 1853), pp. 99–100;1851–1865 (Paris, 1870), p. 74; 1866–1880 (Paris, 1888), p. 88; 1881–1895 (Paris, 1900), p. 96; and Catalogue général des livres imprimés… de la Bibliothéque nationale, XIX (Paris, 1904), cols. 165–167.

II. Secondary Literature. Works on Breguet are Claude Breguet, “La maison Breguet”, in Annuaire de la Société historique du quatorziéme arrondissement de Paris (1962), pp. 65–92; E. Ferret, Les Breguet (Paris, n.d. [ca. 1890]); and E. de Jonquières, “Notice sur la vie et les travaux de Louis Breguet”, in Comptes–rendus de l’ Académie des sciences, 103 (5 July 1886), 5–14, repr. in Ferret, pp. 60–79.

Jacques Payen

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Breguet, Louis François Cl

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