(b. Dijon, Côte-d’Or, France, 3 June 1777; d. Verberie, Oise, France, 30 August 1862)
Desormes entered the École Polytechnique at its founding (1794) and he remained there after his studies were completed, becoming répétiteur in chemistry under Guyton de Morveau, a position he held until 1804. From this period dates his relationship with Nicolas Clément, his compatriot who later became his scientific collaborator, industrial associate, son-in-law, and friend. (Detailed information on their important joint scientific works can be found in the article on Clément.) Desormes left Guyton de Morveau only in order to devote himself to the alum factory that he established at Verberie in association with Clément and Joseph Montgolfier.
On 5 July 1819 Desormes was elected a corresponding member of the Académie des Sciences; this honor was refused his self-educated son-in-law. From this time, and especially after 1830, Desormes gradually turned away from science in order to devote his time to politics. He was elected conseiller général of the department of Oise in 1830, but was defeated as an opposition candidate for parliament in June 1834. He then founded the Revue de l’Oise, which became the Progrès de l’Oise. Following two further defeats in November 1837 and in July 1842 (shortly after the death of Clément), Desormes was finally elected to the Constituent Assembly on 23 April 1848. He sat with the republicans and participated in the departmental and communal Committee of Administration.
Besides his works in collaboration with Clément, Desormes’s scientific oeuvre is slight, consisting of three memoirs dating from 1801 to 1804, the period immediately after the appearance of Volta’s pile. Historians of science should certainly pay a bit more attention to the dry piles that Desormes then constructed. They were composed of metallic disks separated by a layer of salt paste. The analogous arrangement of Giuseppe Zamboni dates only from 1812.
For the works that Desormes published in collaboration with his son-in-law Nicolas Clément, see the article on the latter.
The easiest way to gain an overall idea of Desormes’s career is to consult Procès-verbaux des séances de l’Académie tenues depuis la fondation de l’Institut jusqu’au mois d’ao,ût 1835, 10 vols. (Hendaye, 1910–1924). The most relevant of these are II, 312 (6 ventôse an IX [25 Feb. 1801]) and II, 316 (11 ventôse [2 Mar.]), reading of a memoir by Desormes on galvanism; IV, 237 (7 Aug. 1809), Desormes admitted to the session upon having presented at least two memoirs; IV, 315 (22 Jan. 1810), Desormes a candidate following the death of Fourcroy; V, 271 (6 Dec. 1813), Desormes proposed as a correspondent; VI, 113 (25 Nov. 1816), same topic; VI, 118 (2 Dec. 1816), Desormes defeated, having received only two votes; VI, 465 (28 June 1819), Desormes a candidate following the death of Clément; VI, 466 (5 July 1819), Desormes elected corresponding member by forty votes; VI, 483 (13 Sept. 1819), Desormes expresses his appreciation; VIII, 216 (23 May 1825), the role of Desormes in the history of the construction of dry cells is recalled; IX, 284 (3 Aug. 1829), same subject, with remarks by Antoine-César Becquerel.
The announcement of Desormes’s death is in Comptes rendus. 55 (1862), 418.
I. Original Works. Considérations sur les routes en général et sur celles du département de l’Oise (Senlis, 1834);Des impôts (Senlis, 1851); “Expériences et observations sur les phénomènes physiques et chimiques que présentel’appareil électrique de Volta,” in Annales de chimie, 37 (an IX [l801]), 284–321; Proposition relative à la franchise des lettres, adressée au citoyen président de l’Assemblée nationale, presentée le 12 juillet 1848 par le citoyen Desormes... (Paris, 1849).
Desormes also wrote, in collaboration with Guyton de Morveau, “Essai sur l’analyse et la recomposition de deux alcalis fixes et de quelques-unes des terres reputées simples, lu le six floréal an VIII [26 Apr. 1800],” in Mémoires de l’Académie des sciences, 1st. ser., III (an XI), 321–336; and, in collaboration with Hachette, “Mémoire pour servir àl’histoire de cette partie de l’électricité qu’on nomme galvanisme,” in Annales de chimie, 44 (an XI), 267–284; and “Du doubleur d’électricité,” ibid., 49 (an XII), 45–54.
II. Secondary Literature, See S.-J. Delmont, Dictionnaire de biographie française, X (1965), 1501 a; and Grande encyclopédie universelle. XIV (Paris, n.d. [about 1900]), 263.