The Brotherhood of the Tower — 72 Engineers and Scientists Named by Gustave Eiffel

Whenever a story of technological innovation and change is told, the importance of teamwork, cooperation and collaboration comes through. A team of brothers invented the airplane, Orville and Wilber Wright. A father and son team invented the first practical steam locomotive, George and Robert Stephenson. Five Seguin brothers built the first railroad in France, and the firm of Seguin et Freres also pioneered the technology of wire-supported suspension bridges.

Excellence in engineering and technology is often anonymous. Medicine, the law, education — excellence in these professions is exemplified by stand-out individual performances. This is the stuff of popular drama. Everyone knows that Neil Armstrong was the first man to set foot on the Moon, but he was only the pilot. No one knows the names of the engineers who built the spacecraft and managed that systems that got men to the moon and back.

The ideal of fraternity — people joined in brotherhood marked by mutual respect and collaboration — is at the heart of what it means to be an engineer. It is difficult to image another profession that requires the level of collaboration and teamwork that is required of engineers. The Eiffel Tower, was built in 1889 to celebrate the ideals of the French Revolution — Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity. It also embodies the synthesis of human ingenuity made possible by the bonds of brotherhood that exist between engineers.

The team that designed and directed construction of the Eiffel Tower, (left to right) Maurice Koechlin, Stephen Sauvestre, Gustave Eiffel, Emile Nouguier, and Adolphe Salles. (not shown: Jean Compagnon)

Gustave Eiffel built a 300 metre high iron tower in Paris as the centerpiece of the Exposition Universelle, but Eiffel never thought of the tower as entirely his own. It was a team effort from the beginning. Three engineers from Eiffel’s firm, Maurice Koechlin, Emile Nouguier, and Stephen Sauvestre came up with the design. Jean Compagnon and Adolphe Salles managed its construction, and Eiffel asked each of the 200 or so workers who built it to add their signatures to the finished tower.

It is fitting that when Eiffel publicly dedicated the tower he did so in a way that recognized the many contributors to French science and technology. Eiffel did not honor just one or two of the most famous French scientists from the 19th century — Simon Laplace, Francois Arago or Lazare Carnot, for example. Instead, he recognized the entire fraternity of scientists and engineers who worked in France during the period 1789 through 1889 by inscribing 72 names on four sides of the tower, just below the first level galleries.

To Olivier de Gourcuff, a young Breton poet, the proud tower called out to the world:

“I embody industry and science

Of the century now ending.

Dead, past, I am the future…”

Who were the men — they are all men — Gustave Eiffel chose as representatives of the brotherhood of the tower? Many of them made ingenious discoveries. Others founded successful businesses and institutions, executed works or invented machines that increased the expanded the frontiers of knowledge while also improving the material conditions of mankind.The oldest (Chevereul) died at one hundred three years, and the youngest (Bichat) barely made it past thirty.

Their accomplishments can be categorized into twelve areas: two were agronomists, six astronomers, nine chemists, four industrialists, one geographer, fifteen civil engineers, seventeen mathematicians, two physicians, two mechanical engineers, two mineralogists, one biologist, and eleven physicists.

Of the seventy-two, six were born into the aristocracy and ten were awarded honorary titles in recognition of their works. The six born aristocrats are Borda, Coulomb, de Dion, Lalande, Lavoisier, and Prony. The ten honarees are Carnot, Chaptal, Clapeyron, Cuvier, Fourier, Lamé, Laplace, Monge and Thenard. Napoleon Bonaparte bestowed titles on Carnot, Chaptal, Fourier, and Monge. Louis XVIII bestowed titles on Laplace and Thenard. The Russian government granted hereditary titles to Clapeyron and Lamé.

Among this group also, three were sons of peasant farmers: Laplace, Poisson, and Thenard. One was the son of a laborer, Cail. The others have their roots among the petit bourgeoisie, that is the French middle class that first flexed its political muscle during the French Revolution and rose in influence through the industrial revolution that followed.

Thirty-four graduated from the prestigious Ecole Polytechnique; one from the Ecole du Genie militaire de Mézièrs (Carnot); and two from the Ecole Centrale des Arts et Manufactures (de Dion and Pétiet). The others did not attend one of the state-supported Grands Ecoles. Sturm worked as a tutor for an established family in Broglie; Sauvage worked in a factory, Schneider worked in a bank.

Sixty-eight of the seventy-two were decorated with the Legion of Honor, and two also received the Royal Order of Saint-Louis (Carnot and Coulomb). However, four received no French honors during their lifetime. These are Bichat, who died too young, Giffard, who was forgotten, Lavoisier, who suffer the indignity of the guillotine, and Sauvage, who was refused on accounts of unpaid debts resulting from his invention, the marine propeller!

While it is tempting to say that this lack of recognition was the result of social prejudice or political intrigue. But, one can also say that these men represent the multitude of scientists and engineers, the majority, whose extraordinary accomplishments go unrecognized.

The following brief summary was compiled by Georges Barral, the son of Jean-Augustine Barral, for visitors to the Eiffel Tower during the 1889 Paris Exposition.

André-Marie Ampère (1775–1836), mathematician and physicist, and Dominique François Arago (1786–1853), astronomer and physicist, collaborated in making discoveries on electromagnetism, between 1820 and 1824.

Jean Augustine Barral (1819–1884), agronomist and chemist, extracted nicotine from tobacco and determined its chemical formula, in 1841; discovered nitrates and phosphates in rainwater, 1852; celebrated balloon ascensions in 1850; discovered and described nitrates in bread crust, in 1863.

Antoine Cesar Becquerel (1788–1878), physicist, invented a constant current electric power supply, in 1830, and the differential galvanometer, in 1840.

Jean Baptiste Charles Joseph Bélanger (1790–1874), mathematician, developed a new theory of resistance and bending plane in solids.

Eugene Belgrand (1810–1878), engineer, designed and supervised construction of the sewer system and improvements to the water supply for Paris, in 1854.

Pierre Berthier (1782–1861), mineralogist, created analysis techniques to easily determine the proportion of usable metals contained in mineral specimens, in 1816.

Marie François Xavier Bichat (1771–1802), anatomist and physiologist, made advances in anatomy and the foundations of biology, in 1800.

Jean Charles Borda (1733–1799), mathematician, first determined distance along an arc of a meridian (geodesy) in collaboration with Delambre and Mèchain, in 1894, and invention of metallic thermometers, in 1796.

Louis Bréguet (1804–1883), mechanic and inventor, constructed the first telegraph apparatus, in 1842.

Jacques Antoine Charles Bresse (1822–1883), engineer, created a method for calculating the bending and strength of large metal structures.

Paul Broca (1824–1880), physician and anthropologist, founder of the field of experimental anthropology, in 1861.

Jean François Cail (1804–1871), industrialist, constructed factories to fabricate copper vats and other equipment used by distilleries and sugar refineries.

Lazare Nicholas Marguerite Carnot (1753–1823), mathematician, developed approach for analysis of energy loss in machines, in 1783, and popularized the methods of geometry, especially through his book Géométry de position, in 1803.

Augustin Louis Cauchy (1789–1857), mathematician, expanded the boundaries of integral calculus, in 1832; application of calculus to geometry and one of the founders of mathematical astronomy.

Jean Antoine Chaptal (1756–1832), agronomist and chemist, developed methods of industrial production of sulfuric acid, in 1781; of artificial alum, in 1785; of sugaring unfermented wine (to increase alcohol content), in 1796; of applying a red dye (rouge d’Andrinople) to cotton, in 1799.

Michel Chasles (1793–1880), geometer, made original contributions on the ellipsoid, in 1825; integral calculus, in 1837; the movement and mechanics of solid bodies, in 1845; and author of Traité de Géométre supérieure, in 1852.

Michel Eugène Chevreul (1786–1889), chemist, discovered saponification of animal fats and identification of stearic acid, in 1823.

Benôit Paul Émile Clapeyron (1799–1864), engineer, built railroads from Paris to Saint-Germain and to Versailles (via the Right Bank), in 1834.

Charles Pierre Mathieu Combes (1801–1872), engineer and metallurgist, developed means of controlling the combustion of coal, in 1840; experimental studies on the construction of passenger rail cars for use at high speeds, in 1855.

Gaspard Gustave Coriolis (1792–1843), engineer and scientist, discovered the laws of acceleration in rotating flows (Coriolis force); author of rules for calculating velocity in with respect to a moving frame of reference, known by the name of the Coriolis theorem, in 1825; reform of the teaching of rational mechanics.

Charles Augustin de Coulomb (1736–1806), physicist, discovered the laws that govern magnetic attraction and repulsion, in 1780; invented the torsion balance, in 1784.

Georges Cuvier (1769–1832), naturalist, founded the field of comparative anatomy and paleontology.

Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre (1787–1851), painter and physicist, invented photography with Joseph Nicéphore Niépce; Niépce discovered a chemical means of capturing an image with sun light in 1813; Daguerre invented the diorama, in 1822, and perfected the process of heliography at the beginning of 1829.

Henri de Dion (1828–1878), engineer, designed metal roof trusses for use in large structures, in 1857.

Jean Baptiste Joseph Delambre (1749–1822), astronomer, made first measurement of the length of an arc of the meridian (geodesy) in collaboration with Borda and Méchain, in 1794; author of the Histoire de l’Astronomie, in 1820.

Charles Eugène Delaunay (1816–1872), astronomer, derived a theory of tides and a precise description of the movement of the moon in its orbit, in 1849.

Pierre Louis Dulong (1785–1838), physicist and chemist, discovered laws concerning the cooling and pressure in water vapor.

Jean Baptiste Dumas (1800–1884), chemist, discovered the laws of chemical substitution, in 1832; founder of organic chemistry.

Jacques Joseph Ebelmen (1814–1852), chemist, developed a method for artificial fabrication of precious minerals, in 1851.

Armand Hippolyte Louis Fizeau (1819–1896 ), physicist, measured the speed of light, in 1849 and 1856; developed a technique for transferring photographic images onto plates for printing, in 1850.

Eugène Flachat (1802–1873), engineer, constructed railroads from Paris to Rouen, from 1845 to 1850; innovations in the use of metal in building construction, in 1832.

Jean Bernard Léon Foucault (1819–1868), physicist, developed an experiment demonstrating of the rotation of the earth by the progression in a pendulum’s plane of motion, in 1850.

Jean Baptiste Joseph Fourier (1768–1830), mathematician, developed a mathematical theory of heat conduction, in 1816.

Jean Augustine Fresnel (1788–1827), physicist, invented an efficient lens system for use in lighthouses, in 1820.

Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac (1778–1850), chemist, discovered cyanide gas and prussic acid (hydrocyanic acid); celebrated balloon ascent, on 25 August 1804, to a record height of 7,016 metres.

Henri Giffard (1825–1882), engineer, invented an automatic means of supplying water to boilers used in steam-powered locomotives and other steam engines, in 1858.

Ernest Goüin (1815–1885), engineer and industrialist, created the first workshops (in France) for manufacturing locomotives, in 1846; promoted the wide application of metal in bridge construction, in 1849.

René Just Haüy (1743–1822), mineralogist, founded the field of experimental mineralogy and created the field of crystallography, in 1796.

Jules Célestin Jamin (1818–1886), physicist, studied the properties of magnets, in 1857; made refinements in the use of electricity for lighting, in 1879.

Louis Didier Jousselin (1776–1858), engineer, constructed large canals, in 1808.

Joseph Louis Lagrange (1736–1813), mathematician, developed a theory regarding changes in the face of the moon as seen from earth in 1764; created analytical mechanics, in 1787.

Joseph Jérôme Le Français de Lalande (1732–1807), astronomer, popularized astronomy and constructed a heliometer for determining the apparent diameters of the moon and the sun, in 1753.

Gabriel Lamé (1795–1870), geometer, made valuable contributions in establishing the first railways, in 1832; important discoveries in mathematical physics.

Pierre-Simon Laplace (1749–1827), mathematician and astronomer, developed mathematical proof of the eternal order established in the universe, between 1799 and 1812.

Antoine Laurent Lavoisier (1743–1794), chemist, created methods and principles that gave birth to modern chemistry; established the chemical function (respiration) of living beings.

Louis le Chatelier (1815–1873), chemist, made valuable contributions in establishing the first railways, from 1840 to 1852; developed methods for maintaining the stability of machines in movement and for regulating the speed of trains.

Adrien Marie Legendre (1752–1834), geometer, founded modern geometry, in 1785.

Urbain Jean Joseph Le Verrier (1811–1877), astronomer, performed calculations leading to the discovery of the planet Neptune, in 1846.

Etienne Louis Malus (1775–1811), physicist, discovered the polarization of light, in 1808.

Gaspard Monge (1746–1818), geometer, developed new applications of geometry, in 1783; provided a physical explanation for the phenomenon of the mirage, in 1798.

Arthur Jules Morin (1795–1880), mathematician and physicist, invented a device to measure the mechanical output of engines and indicator instruments used to study the behavior of heavy falling objects, from 1843 to 1848.

Claude Louis Marie Henri Navier (1785–1836), mathematician, developed laws of fluid motion, in 1820; laws for the strength of materials, in 1830; constructed of one of the first metal suspension bridges in Paris, in 1827.

Théophile Jules Pelouze (1807–1867), chemist, synthesized guncotton (nitrocellulose), in 1835; designed an industrial process for the production of caustic soda (sodium hydroxide), in 1840.

Albert Augustus Perdonnet (1801–1867), engineer, made valuable contributions in establishing the first railways, in 1832; created the course on railroad design at the Ecole centrale des arts et manufactures in Paris, in 1844.

François Perrier (1833–1888), geographer and mathematician, advanced military geodesy, in 1880; in 1879, extended measurement of the arc of the meridian begun by Delambre, Méchain and Borda, in 1792, and later continued by Arago and Biot in 1806.

Jules Alexander Petiet (1813–1885), engineer, made innovations in railroad equipment, from 1842 to 1867.

Louis Poinsot (1777–1859), mathematician, made innovations in the teaching of mechanics; developed the theory of couples in statics, from 1803 to 1835.

Siméon Denis Poisson (1781–1840), mathematician and physicist, developed laws governing the equilibrium of elastic surfaces, in 1820; demonstrated the problem of algebraic elimination, in 1798.

Antoine René Polonceau (1778–1847), engineer, created routes crossing the Alps at Simplon and at Mont-Cenis, in 1808 to 1812.

Jean Victor Poncelet (1788–1867), geometer, developed the theory of the poles and polar lines associated with conic sections, in 1822; invented the water turbine, in 1830.

Gaspard Clair François Marie Riche de Prony (1755–1839), engineer, invented the float gauge and a brake for measuring the torque produced by engines.

Henri Victor Regnault (1810–1878), chemist and physicist, performed extremely precise physical measurements (properties of water vapor) and chemical analyses.

Pierre Louis Frédéric Sauvage (1785–1837), engineer, invented the marine propeller, in 1843.

Joseph Eugène Schneider (1805–1875), industrialist, developed foundries and mines around Creusot, in 1860.

Marc Seguin (1786–1875), mechanic, invented the tubular boiler, in 1828.

Charles Sturm (1803–1855), mathematician, developed a method for determining real roots of an equation on a given interval, in 1829; studied the compressibility of liquids; created with Daniel Colladon of the first illuminated fountains, in 1830.

Louis Jacques Thénard (1777–1857), chemist, invented the pigment for ultramarine blue.

Henri Edward Tresca (1814–1885), engineer and mechanic, discovered the laws of plastic deformation for solids, in 1855.

Charles Jean Triger (1801–1867), engineer, invented the method of using compressed air to allow excavation under water and in saturated soil beneath the watertable, in 1845.

Louis Joseph Vicat (1786–1861), engineer, discovered hydraulic lime, in 1811, and refined the manufacture of roman (hydraulic) cement, in 1825.

Charles-Adolphe Wurtz (1818–1884), chemist, discovered ethylene glycol and ethylamine, in 1850; introduced the atomic theory of chemistry, in 1875.

RE: Engineering 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.



A dead poet, a reformed anarchist, and an earnest engineer celebrate the 19th century revolution in science and technology that transformed Paris and conquered the world — a collection of essays on the theme.

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William Nuttle

Navigating a changing environment — hydrologist, engineer, advocate for renewable energy, currently writing about the personal side of technological progress