Claude, Georges

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Claude, Georges

(b. Paris, France 24 September 1870; d. St. Cloud, France, 23 May 1960),


His father rose from humble beginnings to assistant director at the Manufactures des Glaces de Saint-Gobin. Georges graduated from the municipal school of physics and chemistry in 1889 and then worked at the Usines Municipales d’Électricité des Halles. He married in 1893 and had three children.

After a near-fatal accident with a high-tension wire, he devised better safety measures, which he presented in 1893 to his former teacher d’Arsonval. From 1896 to 1902 Claude was with the Compagnie Francaise Houston-Thomson, where he developed the method of handling acetylene by dissolving it in acetone and began his work on the manufacture of liquid air. He used thermodynamic principles to improve methods that used the energy of the expanding gas for producing electricity. In the later stages of this work, from 1917 to 1920, he concentrated on the separation and utilization of the rare gases in the atmosphere. During World, War I, he used liquid oxygen in explosives and initiated a new approach to ammonia synthesis. Thermodynamic calculations showed him the advantages of going from the then usual 200 atmospheres to 1,000; engineering skill overcame the great practical difficulties. He separated hydrogen from illuminating gas in several stages of cooling, using liquid carbon monoxide as the coolant in the last stage. He used the compressed hydrogen for driving a motor lubricated by a small proportion of injected nitrogen, which not only remained efficient down to -211 C., where all other lubricants failed, but in addition did not contaminate the gas for this particular use. He solved another great problem by transferring the heat of reaction to the incoming mixture of hydrogen and nitrogen to bring them to the 500 C. required for the synthesis. Thermodynamic considerations also led him into one project that, in 1933, after eight years of effort, resulted in dismal and costly failure: the generation of energy from an apparently inexhaustible source, the ocean, by transferring the heat of warm surface water to the lower temperature of the depths.

In 1903, Claude was honored by the John Scott Medal of the Franklin Institute. Many other honors followed; they corresponded with Claude’s inclinations toward public affairs. He presented the results of his work in books, articles, and talks; he founded industrial companies; he became directly involved in politics, when he joined the Action Francaise in 1919 and stood for election to public office in 1928; without success. Unfortunately, he conducted what he described as “Conferences sous l’occupation allemande: Mes imprudences et mes malheurs” in the years 1940–1945. After the war, he was accused of collaboration with the enemy. He pleaded guilty, was sentenced, and his name was removed from the roster of the Legion of Honor. Through the efforts of friends he was released, after four and a half years, under police surveillance. Little is known about the inventions he devised afterward in retirement.


His first book, L’air liquide (Paris, 1903), with a perface by d’Arsonval, trans, by Henry E. P. Cottrell (Philadelphia, 1913), had several eds. Articles by Claude appear in Moniteur des produits chimiques, 9 no, 91 (1926), 9–12; ibid., no, 92 (1926), 6–11; Zeitschrift für angewandte Chemie and Zentralblatt für technische Chemie, 43 (1930), 417–423; und Chimie et Industrie (Special No; March, 1932), pp. 449–452. Among his autobiographical books are Souvenirs et enseignements d’une campagne electorale (Paris, 1932); and Ma vie et mes inventions (Paris, 1957).

Eduard Farber

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Claude, Georges

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