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Invention is the mother of necessity. I know it's supposed to be the other way around, and frequently it is, but the French have definitely come up with a few items that humans have glommed onto with a frenzy. Check it out:

Le bicyclette may not have been strictly a French invention, as there has been a lengthy evolution of what we call the bicycle, but the French have played a significant part in its development. The earliest mention of this means of conveyance goes back to 1791 and the Comte de Sivrac, who might have presented a two-wheeled contraption at the Palais Royal, called a celerifere. It was a German, Baron Karl von Drais who patented a design for the velocipede, or dandy horse, in 1818, but certainly the French were also smitten by the challenge of developing a functional, practical riding machine.
Pierre Lallement (1843-1891) claims that he created the first pedal-driven bicycle in Paris in 1863. His patent, which he filed when he came to America to live, is the first and only one in existence and it was granted in 1866.

Lallement's invention inspired a partnership between a blacksmith and a small group of entrepreneurs, who had visions of mass-producing the machine, making the change from a wooden, to a cast iron frame. The company, Michaux et Cie, was named after the smithy, and riding a bicycle down the newly-paved, grand boulevards of Paris, was becoming quite the pastime.

Along came the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, the taking of Paris and the fall of Napoleon III. The populace was starving and the frivolity of velocipede-riding was superceded by the dire need to obtain the basic necessities of life.
The bicycle is continually evolving. And still the French remain passionate about the thing. Every year one of the most riveting sporting events in the world, the Tour de France, draws thousands of spectators along its 23-day course. Covering over 1800 miles, it snakes its way across mountain passes and down into the valleys, with the final crossing of the finish line on none other than the Champs Elysees in Paris.

Coco Chanel is on TIME Magazines's list of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century.

Credit her with the arrival of the "little black dress" as the symbol of the simple,powerful, elegant new haute couture, and with the creation of a house of fashion, still an industry icon.

Chanel No.5 was launched in 1922 and the perfume attained legendary status. Next came the arrival of the suit, a knee-length skirt of woven wool topped by a square jacket, trimmed and decorated with her signature buttons.

That was it. 20th century femininity was redefined and streamlined by the masterfully classic lines of Chanel apparel.

Coco was a philosopher of style.

Louis Braille (1809-1852) accidentally blinded himself at the age of three while playing with one of his father's saddlemaking tools. Seven years later he was accepted into the first institution of its kind, a school for blind youth, in Paris. He learned to play the cello and the organ but was continually frustrated by the inept and complicated system of raised letters used to teach students how to read.

When he was twelve an ex-artillery officer in the French army named Charles Barbier came to the school to demonstrate a code of twelve raised dots and dashes applied to paper, which he had invented. It was designed to be used in combat, at night when lamps could not be lit, to communicate orders. The code was difficult to learn, even for sighted soldiers, but Louis was intrigued by its potential and went to work straight away on its simplification. By the time he was fifteen he had developed a system using only six dots, corresponding to letters, easily scanned by a single fingertip.

Although Louis went on to teach at the school, his Braille system was not adopted there during his lifetime. Sixteen years after his death a forerunner of the Royal National Institute of the Blind was established and books using Braille's ingenious code, began to be published. It has become the global tool of written communication for the unsighted.

On the 100th anniversary of Louis Braille's death, in 1952, his body was exhumed and re-interred with honors, in the crypt of the Pantheon, Paris, France. He now keeps company with the remains and the spirit of such notables as Voltaire, Victor Hugo, and Marie Curie.

Nicolas-Jacques Conte (1755-1805) invented the modern pencil and received a patent for it in 1795.

His process involved mixing powdered graphite with clay, firing it in a kiln and pressing the material between two half-cylinders of wood.
Who gets credit for the rubber eraser? Why, Charles Goodyear of course, who patented his formula for cured rubber in 1844. Then, finally in 1858, Hyman Lipman from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania ingeniously attached the eraser to the pencil, and the rest is history.

Father Marcel Audiffren was a priest, who served as the abbot of a monastery in France. He was also a physicist, interested in coming up with a device to keep liquids cool, including wine drunk at the monastery. In 1894 he was granted a patent for a hand or machine-cranked unit, which served this purpose. His patents were purchased by an American company and refrigeration machines meant for residential use were first manufactured by General Electric, and offered for sale to the public, in 1911.

These first refrigerators were very expensive, costing nearly a thousand dollars, which was about twice the cost of an automobile in those days. Today practically every college dorm room in America has a mini version stocked with beer.

Father Audiffren, check out what thou hast wrought.

The science of microbiology was pioneered by Louis Pasteur (1822-1895), whose thirst for knowledge regarding disease, led to much experimentation. Many of his colleagues were involved in the same sort of research, but the application of groundbreaking theories was initiated by Pasteur. He took the germ theory and proved to the world that microorganisms which caused infection and disease, came from outside the body, and were not generated from within. It was a happy accident in the laboratory which led to the injecting of sick chickens with a weakened form of the disease, and the discovery that these injections actually immunized the chickens against that particular life-threatening type of cholera. He was also successful with the treatment of anthrax. Pasteur was given the opportunity to test his theory regarding rabies when a young boy who had been bitten by a rabid dog was brought to him. With much trepidation, the boy was injected with a mild form of the disease, which saved his life, and led to the development of many different types of vaccines.

Pasteur also had great success tackling the problem of the souring of liquids, especially milk. His process of heating the liquid, thus killing the bacteria and mold present within it, is called pasteurization.

For his contributions to the betterment of mankind, Pasteur was awarded the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor, which has only been bestowed upon 75 people. The Institut Pasteur, founded in 1877, is still flourishing and responsible for many breakthroughs in the treatment of infectious diseases.

It was here in 1898 that Paul-Louis Simond detected the role of the flea in the transmission of plague. The discovery at the Institut of how to culture the tuberculosis bacillus, led to the vaccine. Its Nobel prize-winning scientists have conducted their ingenious investigations into the causes of disease, resulting in the successful treatment of typhus, yellow fever and polio. The two viruses that cause HIV were discovered here in the 1980s.
Visit the museum at the Institut which contains Pasteur's apartment, scientific apparatus, and his crypt.

Pasteur Museum
25 Rue du Doctor Roux
Metro: Volontaires or Pasteur
Hours: Mon-Fri 2pm-5:30
Closed holidays and all of August

Barthelemy Thimonnier (1793-1857) was a tailor by trade and worked tirelessly his whole life, at perfecting his "Couseuse", the sewing machine.

In 1830 he opened up a sewing factory on the Rue de Sevres in Paris, but the next year it was destroyed by about 200 irate tailors, who trashed 80 machines, claiming that this invention threatened to put them all out of business. Although other inventors had been working on the idea as well, it was Thimonnier's chain-stitching machine that provided the first practical application of the invention.

Thimonnier never saw the proliferation of his machine, even though it won prizes and was highly esteemed. It was the American, Isaac Merrit Singer (1811-1875) who turned the sewing machine into big business, with his ingenious marketing strategies appealing to the modern woman, guaranteed service of machines and the offer of installment plans for payment.

Thimonnier died a poor man when he was 64 years old.

At the Musee Grevin in Paris, on October 28, 1892, the first animated film made its debut.

Its creator was science teacher, Charles-Emile Reynaud who developed the technologies known as the praxinoscope and the theatre optique.

The film was called Pauvre Pierrot.

Audiences young and old have since fallen in love with the medium, and Walt Disney elevated the animated film to star status with such masterpieces as Beauty and the Beast, Bambi and Lady and the Tramp.

Animated films are still thrilling us with their ingenuity, and are being nominated for Academy Awards.

Napoleon Bonaparte was always on the move to places far flung accompanied by armies of men. Keeping them well-fed was quite challenging. Long campaigns in distant lands could lead to mass starvation of troops, without adequate means of securing fresh provisions.
In 1800 he offered a prize of 12,000 francs to the man who could come up with a way of preserving food that could supply daily rations for an extended period of time. Nine years later, the award was given to Nicolas Francois Appert (1750-1841).

Appert filled thick glass jars with foods of all kinds, and sealed them with cork, wire and wax. Then he wrapped them in heavy canvas and set them into boiling water for as long as he thought it would take for the contents to fully cook.
Shortly thereafter Nicolas Appert published a book, the first book of its kind, regarding the preservation of food. It was called (translated into English) The Art of Preserving Animal and Vegetable Substances For Many Years.

The next innovation in the field is credited to another Frenchman, Pierre Durand, who made the switch from glass receptacles, to the tin can, hence the term, "canning".

I am sure that Nicephore Niepce (1765-1833) and Louis Daguerre (1787-1851) would be utterly astounded to see us 21st century techno-dependents, walking down the street, taking pictures with our cell phones.

Niepce is credited with taking the first permanent photograph, a view of his home, around 1826, on a sheet of pewter.

Experimentation continued and in 1829 he began collaborating with Louis Daguerre.

Together they improved the photographic process and then Niepce died suddenly after a four-year partnership.

In 1839, under the auspices of the French Academy of Sciences, Daguerre unveiled his perfected, Daguerreotype.

Two of the most valuable daguerreotypes in existence are the portraits of Edgar Allen Poe, and Abraham Lincoln.

Jacques-Yves Cousteau (1910-1997) was a member of the Academie Francaise. His passion for oceanography and underwater exploration led to many discoveries about the seas and oceans of the world.

In 1943, Cousteau made history, using apparatus he had designed in conjunction with Emile Gagnan. With a high pressure cylinder strapped to his body, which delivered air through a regulator, Cousteau was able to breathe under water for a prolonged length of time. We call it scuba gear today and it has enabled the study and exploration of all things relating to the ocean, from sea life, to historic shipwrecks.

On December 28, 1895,The Lumiere brothers, Auguste and Louis charged admission for the first time ever, to a screening of a series of short films (under a minute each) in Paris, France. This is considered to be the first commercial use of the motion picture using an invention called the cinematographe.

The cinematographe was both a film camera and projector and the Lumiere brothers improved upon the prototype invented by Leon Bouly and then took their show on the road, to Bombay, London and New York.

Their early cinematic themes were snippets of events occurring in ordinary daily life. They were in essence, documentaries. The first film in the series shown to an audience of about 30 people that night in Paris, is called, Sortie des Usines Lumiere a Lyon, a 46-second piece documenting workers leaving the Lumiere factory.

Other films recorded such events as a baby's breakfast and bathing in the sea.
In 1896, the brothers took their show on the road, traveling with their ten short films and their cinematographe, to Bombay, London and New York. Louis died in 1948 and Auguste, in 1954 at the age of 91. If I could interview them today I would ask them what their all time favorite films are, and which filmmakers they admire the most.

When Georges Claude (1870-1960) applied an electrical discharge to a sealed tube of neon gas, the neon lamp was born.

In 1910 the public first caught a glimpse of it in Paris. In 1923 Claude's neon gas advertising signs hit the United States. Two of them were sold to the Packard car dealership in Los Angeles, California and the neon sign became the outdoor advertising tool of choice.

These early attention-grabbing advertisements were works of art, a vibrant, glowing sales tool as useful during the day, as they were at night. Shopkeepers all over America, whether they were selling beer or offering haircuts, proudly hung their neon signs.

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