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Derosne, (Louis-)Charles

Derosne, (Louis-)Charles

(b. Paris, France, 23 January 1780; d. Paris, 21 September 1846)

chemistry, industrial technology, invention.

Derosne belonged to a family of pharmacists. His father, François Derosne, was associated with the famous Paris apothecary Louis-Claude Cadet (known as Cadet de Gassicourt). After the death of François Derosne in 1796, the Cadet-Derosne pharmacy on the rue St. Honoré was taken over by Charles’s older brother, Jean-François, whose chemical analysis of opium (published in the Annales de chimie in 1803) foreshadowed the emergence of alkaloid chemistry as an important field of research. For a time Charles was associated with Jean-François in the practice of pharmacy and in several joint scientific and technological projects. Perhaps the most important result of their collaboration was the investigation in 1807 of the properties of acetone, which they prepared by distilling copper acetate. Both brothers were admitted to the Academy of Medicine in Paris, Jean-François in 1821 and Charles in 1823.

Pharmacy proved too confining, however, for Charles Derosne, who very early in his career demonstrated a remarkable ability for technological innovation. A lifelong interest in improving methods of sugar production led him to introduce new techniques and equipment into sugar technology. In 1808 he refined crude sugar with alcohol, and by 1811 he was able to improve on the methods of beet sugar manufacture described by the contemporary German chemists S. F. Hermbstädt and F. C. Achard. Derosne’s innovations and observations were included in his notes to the French translation of Achard’s treatise on beet sugar manufacture, published with D. Angar in 1812. Derosne prepared animal charcoal and used it to purify sugar syrup. In 1817 he invented a continuous distillation apparatus and shortly thereafter began to produce other machinery of value in sugar refining at his plant in Chaillot.

Derosne’s subsequent partnership with one of his employees, J.-F. Cail, resulted in a rapid expansion and diversification of his business. The Derosne-Cail establishment moved into the manufacture of industrial machinery, locomotives, and railway equipment. By the time of Derosne’s death in 1846, an industrial empire had been founded, with factories in Paris, Belgium, Cuba, and Denain, and in 1847 branches were opened in Valenciennes, Douai, and Amsterdam.


I. Original Works. Derosne’s writings include “Expériences et observations sur la distillation de l’acétate de cuivre et sur ses produits,” in Annales de chimie, 63 (1807), 267–286, written with J.-F. Derosne; Traité complet sur le sucre européen de betteraves; culture de cette plante considérée sous le rapport agronomique et manufacturier. Traduction abrégée de M. Achard, par M. D. Angar. Précédé d’une introduction et accompagné de notes... par M. Ch. Derosne... (Paris, 1812), the French translation of Achard’s work, done with D. Angar; and De la fabrication du sucre aux colonies et des nouveaux appareils propres à améliorer cette fabrication..., 2 pts. (Paris, 1843–1844), written with J.-F. Cail.

II. Secondary Literature. Brief biographies can be found in Biographie universelle, ancienne et moderne, L. G. Michaud and J. F. Michaud, eds., new ed., X, 461–462; Dictionnaire de biographie française, X (1965), 1144; Le grand dictionnaire universel, Pierre Larousse, ed., VI, 513; La grande encyclopédie, XIV, 197; and Nouvelle biographiegénérale, J. C. F Hoefer, ed., XIII, 718. For an account of the growth of Établissements Derosne et Cail, see Bertrand Gille, Recherches sur la formation de la grande entreprise capitaliste (1815–1848) (Paris, 1959), p. 69; and Julien Turgan, Les grandes usines de France, tableau de l’industrie française au XIXe siècle, II (Paris, 1860–1868), 1–64. See also “Pharmaciens membres de l’Académie de Médecine,” in Figures pharmaceutiques françaises (Paris, 1953), p. 263. Additional information about Derosne in connection with his work on phosphorus bottles or tubes (“briquets phosphoriques”), the precursors of phosphorus matches, will be found in Maurice Bouvet, “Les pharmaciens et la découverte des allumettes et briquets,” in Revue d’histoire de la pharmacie, 11 (Mar. 1954), 230–231.

Alex Berman

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