Famous inventors from Lyon

The region of Lyon has more than 2.6 million inhabitants and constitutes the second largest economic and industrial center in France.

From its foundation in 43 BC, by one of Julius Cesar’s lieutenants Lucius Munatius Plancus, under the name of Lugdunum, the city of Lyon played a central role by becoming the capital of the three provinces of Gaul that were conquered by the Romans. Its history was subsequently marked by being a part of the Holy Roman Empire for a long time, and then by becoming attached to the kingdom of France at the beginning of the 14th century.

The Lyon region has thus taken advantage of its history and its central position in Europe to become a hub of development that has conserved a highly original nature and that presents a marked industrial and international character.

Inventors and industrialists from Lyon have contributed greatly to the technological development of the region which has been the birth place of numerous inventions of universal scope:

  • during the French Revolution, Claude CHAPPE, a Lyon engineer, invented a semaphore system (aerial telegraphy) for transmitting information and known as the Chappe telegraph tower; this system was adopted by numerous European countries;
  • André-Marie AMPÈRE, mathematician and physicist, born in Lyon in 1775, is behind numerous discoveries and inventions associated with electricity, chemistry, and electrodynamics; in particular, he has left his name in Ampère’s law and in the international unit for measuring electric current;
  • in 1783, while his brother Etienne was in Paris, Joseph de MONTGOLFIER in Lyon constructed a hot-air balloon weighing more than 7 tons and with a volume of 23,000,270 m3; that balloon, the Flesselles, one of the largest ever built, and it flew for 12 minutes in Lyon on January 19, 1784 with seven people on board, only a few months after the inaugural first flight in history carried out by his brother in Paris on November 21, 1783 with two people on board;
  • Barthélemy THIMONNIER, born in 1783, at l’Arbresle, close to Lyon, a tailor by profession, developed in 1829 the first sewing machine based on the needling operation performed by his profession and a special hook as used manually by the embroiders of Monts du Lyonnais; he filed numerous patent applications without ever benefiting from the success of his invention in his lifetime since he died in difficult financial circumstances in 1857;
  • Joseph Marie JACQUARD, born in Lyon in 1752, developed in 1807 the first automatic pattern-weaving loom known throughout the world as the “Jacquard loom“; using a mechanical program based on perforated cards for selecting warp yarns, he made it possible for a single worker to manipulate a loom; the use of this invention in Lyon, in particular for weaving silk, contributed to its industrial success in the 19th century;
  • it was in Lyon, in their family business, that Auguste and Louis LUMIÈRE made the reproduction of moving images finally possible with the invention of the Lumière cinematograph in 1885; that was the last link in a chain of inventions marking the beginning of the present era of the worldwide cinema industry; and
  • in 1944, Louis MOYROUD, born in Moirans close to Lyon, together with René HIGONNET, invented photocomposition, a printing technique that has become the norm throughout the world; that revolutionary technique made it possible to replace printing with lead merely by sensitizing a film with a beam of light by storing characters in the form of photographic negatives.


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