Monday, March 30, 2015

The Industrial Revolution of France

Paris (1900)
Revolutions rocked Europe during the 19th century. The first became a revolution for liberty and equality. The second revolution had a same profound effect but emphasized more on the economic results. The Industrial Revolution began to take off, starting first in Great Britain and moving to the continent, beginning with Belgium. Along with Belgium, France began to similarly experience industrialization.

France faced limitation in its path towards becoming an industrialized country. It did not have the resources needed in order to pursue industrialization. It did not have large quantities of coal and iron in order to establish an industrialized economy. Much of its iron and coal laid in the northern and eastern parts of the country. Much of its coal came from Belgium. Nevertheless, it never stopped France into developing its own industries.

The period of industrial growth and development had already began during the time of the ancient regime. During the reign of King Louis XIV, finance minister, Jean Baptiste Colbert, initiated policies that became known as Colbertism. It followed the ideas of mercantilism and caused the growth of local manufacturing sector. France began to make its own silk, porcelain, and beautifully decorated furniture. With royal patronage as well protection from competition, French industries experience growth. Cities like Lyon became a center for silk while Beauvais became a hub for tapestries. In order to develop further France’s capabilities, the Ecole Centrale des Arts et Manufactures and Ecoles des Arts et Metiers produce great minds that drove France’s development. One of the greatest example of the product of the Ecole Centrale des Arts et Manufactures was Gustave Eiffel, the designed the famous Paris landmark, the Eiffel Tower.

However, in 1789 France experienced the French Revolution. The people overthrew and executed their monarchy. On the other, the Revolution also brought mixed effects in France’s industrialization. In 1789, the Civil Code abolished the age old guild systems and domestic customs duties. It stimulated domestic trade and allowed many products to move across from one region to another without paying tariffs. But the Revolution caused also some negative effects. Disgruntled masses attacked the Bourgeoisies, mostly businessmen and merchants, along with landowners and aristocrats. Anyone with wealth became a target during the turbulent times known as the Reign of Terror. Many entrepreneurs sought refuge abroad. But many also fell victim to the guillotine. Other than that, the land reform that followed the fall of the aristocracy led farmers to prosper and make a decent living. It cemented peasants to their lands and prevented them from abandoning farming and moving to cities to work for factories. This reform led to decrease of surplus manpower needed to operate factories in cheap prices. The French Revolution slowed France’s industrial development.

Besides the things mentioned above, the French Revolution brought the rise of a general – Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon’s war gave the economy a stimulus to recover and even growth. Internal trade became even easier and efficient when Napoleon began a massive infrastructure projects. Road and canals expanded across France. Canals connected major rivers that served as highways for goods. Roads also improved travelling. Napoleon also ordered improvements on French ports. The Napoleonic Wars also brought an increase in the demand for textile for uniforms and iron for weapons. In the textile industry, Joseph Jacquard developed a loom in 1805 and developed it further until 1810. The Jacquard loom increased textile production and became a milestone for the development of modern computer. Besides uniforms and weapons, armies had to be fed and Napoleon needed a scientific solution in order to feed his soldiers in overseas without their food becoming spoiled. In 1804, Nicolas Appert offered a solution. He began to put food in bottles and placed it in a boiling water. The process allowed the bottle to preserve the food inside that soldiers could eat during their campaigns abroad. Appert built a processing plant in Massy with a name of La Maison d’Appert. It included farms to make the produce and kitchens to cook the food that will be placed in the bottles. In 1810, Appert began to use tin cans instead of bottles, making it less fragile. Appert supplied the French army with rations until the end of the Napoleonic war.

After the long arduous Napoleonic Wars, France once again took the path of industrialization. New developments in agricultural methods and specialization led to the increase of consumer spending in agricultural centers across the countries. This increase of demand led to the increase of production and development of industries. In addition, businessmen returning from abroad began to introduce new technologies. Many of those French businessmen who sought refuge in Britain returned to France and applied British technology in their business. For example, steam engine from Britain arrived in France and proliferated to about 6,800 engines by the mid-19th century, the largest number in Europe. The proliferation of steam engine led to the rise of textile and coal production.

Textile industry saw developments after the Napoleonic War. From 1830 to 1860, the use of spindles, adopted from Britain, led to the increase of textile production by two-folds. More than the arrival of foreign technology, some Frenchmen also sought ways to improve production in the field. In 1830, Barthelemy Thimonnier invented a sewing machine that make chain stiches. It made cloth making faster. His ingenuity then got the attention of the French Army that contracted Thimonnier to build a factory for army uniforms with 80 of his machines. However, angry seamstress, threatened by the loss of their profits, turned into an angry mod and destroyed Thimonnier’s facility. Thimonnier on the other left Paris fearing for his life and safety. Nevertheless, he continued to develop his sewing machine and in 1848, he attempted to once more to build a factory using his machine. But it too failed. Another angry mob destroyed his factory and he had to hid again until he passed away penniless. With the end of the war, textile center continued to flourish. Lyon continued to be known for its silk. Rouen in Normandy became known for its cotton. Lille and Roubaix along with the region of Alsace and Lorraine also became textile manufacturing hubs.

Following the rise of textile production, dyes also grew. The town of Mulhouse in the province of Alsace rose to prominence for its amazing dyes that brought many designers to it. And from this foundation, Mulhouse diversified into the growing heavy industry of the region and became also prominent as a maker of machines.

The province of Alsace and Lorraine hosted most of the industrial development of France. The region proved to be abundant in iron ore and coal. Lorraine for instance became a center for coal mining along with the region of Calais. The Lorraine region became the home of many of France’s industrial family. The de Wendel Family was one of them. The de Wendel Family grew from iron forging business in 1704 to a modern industrial company. Francois de Wendel returned to Lorraine after he sought refuge in Britain during the time of the French Revolution. But as Europe returned to peace, he brought back to Lorraine the technology that he saw in Britain. He introduce steam engine in coal mining and use of puddling kilns for iron smelting. By 1860’s the de Wendel family employed over 10,000 workers and diversified its business and entered other heavy industries such as railroad construction and shipbuilding.

The region of Alsace and the mountainous region of Southeastern France also took a share of the heavy industrialization of France. Saint-Chamond saw developments in iron production. In 1820, the British technology of refining cast iron began to be used in the town. From the 1830’s to the 60’s iron production skyrocketed as they began to use steam power. The town of Le Creusot became an industrialized thanks to heavy industries. In 1782, the first blast furnace in France established in Le Creusot. The town also hosted some of France’s prominent industrialist. It was in Le Creausot where Petin and Gaudet used steam hammers that aided in the making of metal tires for trains. Le Creausot also became the home of Eugene Schneider. Eugene Schneider took charge of the faltering Le Creusot Metalworks in 1836. Schneider revived the business and expanded his exploits to other industries. In 1838, his company produced the first locomotive in France, the Gironde, and ventured to locomotive production. After the Franco-Prussian War, Schneider moved to weapons manufacturing, producing artillery that competed with Germany’s Krupp.

Iron output increased further during the 1860’s. With the introduction of the hot blast method, production increased from 125,300 in 1826 to 1,250,000 by 1865. A decade later it supplied the iron needed for the Freycinet Plan launched in 1879. The Plan called for the expansion of France’s railroad system and it drove the iron industry.

Railroad became an integral part of France. During the time of Napoleon III’s reign, railroads played a key role in the mobilization of the French army. It also became a consumer of French iron and coal. Railroad in France began in early 1800’s as the country observe its developments in the British Isles. Then in 1832, St. Etienne-Andrezieux line, the first French railroad line, opened. From that point, numerous railroad lines followed to open. After the 1860’s railroad mileage continued to grow rapidly, extending about seven time.

By the late decades of the 19th century and the ushering of the 20th century France, although had a sizable industrial might, remained an agricultural economy. Throughout the 1800’s, agriculture remained the highest employer in the country. In 1806, agriculture employed about 65.1% and then it decrease to about 42.5% in 1896. Meanwhile, industries grew in its share of employment. From 20.4% in 1806, industry sector employed about 31.4% by 1896. Nevertheless, France continued to be a player in the industrial race.

With the turn of the century, France began to compete in new manufacturing industries. It became prominent in the fields of electrometallurgy and electrochemistry. But France became also prominent for its automobile industry. Before the turn of the century, France’s two biggest automobile companies today began operation. In 1891, with the assistance of German inventors, Gottlieb Daimler and Emile Levassor, Arman Peaugot produced his first batch of automobiles. In 1898, Louis Renault built the quadricycle, from which he began to produce in large quantities under his company, the Societe Renault Freres. France continued its role as one of the top industrial nations in Europe even after the 1800’s and throughout the 1900’s.

France followed the examples of Britain and Belgium. Although it did not truly became a fully fledge industrial nation, it surely did not allowed itself to be left behind. As a result, France continued to play as a major power in Europe and even in the world stage. It brought it power and strength capable of competing with its equally powerful neighbors of Britain and Germany. France’s industrial transformation earned her the place of a great power in the modern and contemporary times.

See also:
Beaud, Claude, "Schneider, Joseph-Eugene," in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Economic History, Volume 1, Joel Mokyr (ed.). New York, New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Berand, Ivan. An Econoic History of Nineteenth-Century Europe: Diversity and Industrialization. New York, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013.

Carlock, Randel. Strategic Planning for the Family Business: Parallel Planning to Unify the Family and Business. New York, New York: Palgrave, 2001.

Caron, Francois. An Economic History of Modern France. New York, New York: Routledge, 1979.

Caron, Francois. "France: Modern Period" in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Economic History, Volume 1, Joel Mokyr (ed.). New York, New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Klooster, John. Icons of Invention: The Makers of the Modern World From Guttenberg to Gates. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, LLC, 2009.

Inventors and Inventions. Tarrytown, New York: Marshall Cavendish, 2008. 

"Industrial History: France." European Route of Industrial Heritage. Accessed on March 30, 2015. 


  1. can you tell me what was happening in France around 1890?

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  13. Well documented..thank you very much.

  14. This is good paper, and its very helpful.
    thank you

  15. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  16. Nice article, thank you for sharing a wonderful full blog post

    Also check out - Biography of Napoleon Bonaparte in Hindi

  17. Really Nice Information It's Very Helpful Thanks for sharing such an informative post.

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