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Bernard Forest de Belidor

1698-1761

French Engineer

Bernard Forest de Belidor was a French engineer and professor of artillery at La Fère military academy who wrote some of the best-known and comprehensive engineering manuals in both military and civil engineering. His work influenced the engineering practices in France and other European countries for nearly 100 years after their publication.

Belidor was born in Catalonia, Spain, where his father, Jean-Baptiste, was commanding a dragoon for the French army. Both his father and his mother died within five months of his birth, and his godfather's family raised him. As a child he had a natural aptitude for mathematics and inventing. This flair for the practical application of mathematics secured him an army post to survey the area from Paris to the English Channel. This project was completed in 1718 and covered in a book published by his colleagues Jacques Cassini (1677-1756) and Philippe de La Hire. After the publication of the book, Belidor's talents came to the attention of the Duc d'Orleans, who advised and influenced him to take an appointment as professor of mathematics at the new artillery school at La Fere.

As professor of artillery at La Fère, he became known as an author of textbooks and technical manuals. After serving a tour of active duty during the War of Austrian Succession, Belidor settled into the influential position of brigadier for the French Army. He was well known and regarded for his books, which were written with detailed instructions for the construction and firing of explosives and targeted at artillery cadets, engineers, and high-ranking officers in the French Army.

Two of his most important books, La science des ingénieurs (1729) and Architecture hydraulique (1737-53), addressed his ideas on the science of mechanics and fortifications for naval and military operations. These books proved to be invaluable resources to architects, builders, and engineers of the times. In addition to addressing common engineering problems encountered in shipbuilding, waterways, and road construction, his books also provided specifications for such things as foundations, arches, and ornamental fountains. Their many diagrams and detailed work plans for engineering and construction projects proved extremely popular.

Belidor's work unexpectedly ushered in a new science of mechanical engineering unknown at the time of the first editions of Architecture hydraulique and La science des ingénieurs. His practical ideas and solid engineering expertise influenced the proceeding two generations of scientists who became mechanical engineers after him. These unusual and innovative individuals became engineers of the "science of machines" and ushered in a new era that ultimately would make the Industrial Revolution possible.

Belidor was elected to the French Academy of Sciences in 1756. He died in Paris in 1761.

LESLIE HUTCHINSON

Bernard Forest de Belidor

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