Engineer’s Toy Box
If you impulsively take things apart to see how they work, then the Musée des Arts et Métiers is the place for you. This museum holds a collection of mechanical models, scientific instruments, and industrial bric-a-brac used to train engineers for the industrial revolution during first half of the 19th century. Established as a strategic national resource in 1794, the collection served as a 3-dimensional encyclopedia for students of the Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers, a hands-on reference and source of inspiration for inventors and industrial designers.
Later, a gothic cathedral next to the school was converted into a theater for public demonstrations. Today, this houses the museum, where visitors can see all manner of devices, from Clément Ader’s pioneering bat-winged airplane, to automatons — robots — from the 1700s, to elegant laboratory instruments used to make the first laboratory measurements of the speed of light in 1850. You can visit the Musee des Arts et Métiers online.
I visited the Musée des Arts et Métiers when I returned to Paris in 2007 on a quest. Three years earlier, my son Rupert and I had discovered that there are 72 names displayed on the four sides of the Eiffel Tower. I recognized enough of them to guess that these were all scientists and engineers. Cauchy, Laplace, and Lagrange were mathematicians I had encountered in my engineering studies. Five more I recognized as physicists — Fresnel, Coulomb, Coriolis, Navier, and Foucault. Poisson had something to do with statistics, and Cuvier was a biologist.
Why did Gustave Eiffel inscribe the names of these men on his tower? In 2004, it took me several months and a visit to the rare book room at the Carleton University library to identify them all. Today, of course, there is a Wikipedia page on the topic. Eiffel built his tower in 1889 to celebrate the centenary of the French Revolution. These men contributed to the advance of science and technology in France during that 100-year period.
My quest to find out what motivated Eiffel to inscribed these names on his tower has taken me to the origins of the modern-day engineering profession. Through this quest I have discovered the story of “le Plan Mediterranean,” the French engineers’ campaign of peaceful conquest, and much more, which I share at Eiffel’s Paris — an Engineer’s Guide on Facebook and Medium.com. The 72 scientists and engineers named on the Eiffel Tower were leaders of a revolution that transformed Paris and created the modern world.
RE: Engineering newsletter publishes occasional notes and comment on what it means to be an engineer in a world created by science and technology. Being an engineer requires specialized knowledge, an insatiable interest in how things work, and a knack for solving problems. But, on a personal level, an engineer cannot be anything else. Sign up to receive future issues.