Masson Antoine-Philibert

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(b. Auxonne, France, 22 or 23 August 1860)


Having completed a bachelor of arts program in Nancy, Antoine Masson subsequently received his bachelor of sciences degree from the Élcole Normale Supérieure in Paris. In 1831, after a year of teaching mathematics at Montpellier, he moved to Caen, where he taught physical sciences at the Collège Royal until 1839. Unaware of the discoveries of Joseph Henry or William Jenkins, Masson in 1834 observed independently the self-induction of a voltaic circuit. Three years later he described his investigation of this phenomenon and, utilizing a toothed wheel as an interrupter, demonstrated the tetanic effect of a series of rapidly repeated self-induced currents. Employing a similar toothed wheel to interrupt an independent primary circuit, Masson constructed some of the earliest induction coils. In 1841, together with Louis Breguet, he described a high-tension induction coil of the type Ruhmkorff subsequently perfected. In the interim, having in 1836 successfully defended a doctoral thesis elaborating Ampère’s work in electrodynamics, Masson had returned to Paris and from 1841 taught physics at the Lycèe Louis-le-Grand and at the Ècole Centrale.

Masson’s subsequent researches spanned the breadth of contemporary physics and continued unabated until his death in 1860. To clarify the relations among heat, light, and electricity, between 1844 and 1854 he conducted an intensive investigation of the spark produced by electrical discharges through various media. In conjunction with L. Courtépée and J.-C. Jamin, he also examined during these years the absorption of radiant heat and light by different substances, confirming the conclusions of Melloni. In addition, he investigated aspects of electrical telegraphy, acoustics, the elasticity of solid bodies, and the discharge of induction coils through partial vacuums, as well as related chemical and physical problems. He was a member of the Académie des Science, Arts, et Belles-Lettres of Caen, the SociétéRoyale of Liège, and the Société Philomatique in Paris. He received the Légion d’Honneur and, although never elected, was nominated in 1851 and 1860 to the Académie des Sciences of Paris.


I. Original Works. Accounts of Masson’ researches appeared almost annually between 1835 and 1858, for the most part in the Annales de chimie et de physique or the Comptes rendus…de l’ Académie des sciences. Although Poggendorff, II, col. 75, lists most of these papers, see also Masson’s own Notice sur les travaux scientifiques de M. A. Masson (Paris, 1851). Several of these papers were also reprinted separately. Other published works include Théorie physique et mathématique des phénomènes électrodynamiques et du magnétisme (Paris, 1838); École centrale des arts et manufactures. Cours de physique générale [1841–1842–, 1843–1844], 2 vols. (Paris, n.d.);Mémoire sur l’étincelleélectrique (Haarlem, 1854); and Nouvelle théorie de la voix (Paris, 1858).

II. Secondary Literature. Although briefly mentioned in most of the standard secondary sources, the only extended discussion of Masson is Louis Jovignot, “Un grand savant bourguignon du XIXe siècle: Antonio Masson,” in Revue d’ histoire des sciences et de leurs applications, I (1948), 337–350.

David W. Corson