Today, a young man opens his eyes and changes
France. The University of Houston's College of
Engineering presents this series about the machines
that make our civilization run, and the people
whose ingenuity created them.
Napoleon went down at
Waterloo in 1815. By then, France had put almost
three decades of its energy into strife. First
revolution -- then the Napoleonic Wars! It'd all
cost her dearly. Her roads, bridges, and merchant
navy were in shambles. She'd done little to keep
abreast of the English Industrial Revolution. Her
economy was stagnant.
Now, as the smoke cleared, the extent of the damage
also came clear. A young French naval engineer,
Charles Dupin, saw a chance to do his country and
his career some good. He would go to England and
study her secrets.
France had been doing that even before the
Revolution. In 1786 a French observer had said that
English workers were
haughty, quarrelsome, risk takers ... easy to
suborn. When a new machine produces gain ... the
French government can always be master of it in six
months for a small outlay.
Of course, thinking like that had
condemned France to a tag-along role in the first
place. Now there was no choice. If France was to
start over, she had to begin in England.
Charles Dupin was upper crust. He had typical
French training in math and physics. He'd learned
almost nothing of practical use. He was hardly kin
to the "quarrelsome risk takers" who'd built
English industrial greatness. But he was not
In 1816 Dupin set out on the first of his
information gathering raids into England. You catch
the young man's arrogance in his reports. He sneers
at the English when he can.
But you also see a powerful gift for observation.
He tells of steam dredges and harbor works. He
writes about new processes. Most important, he sees
the breakdown of class separation. He sees England
educating her working class.
In the end, Dupin returned to France to claim the
political advantage he'd gained by his visits. But
now, as a member of the Chamber of Deputies, he did
not forget what he'd learned.
Dupin became a champion of practical education. He
set up free schooling for workers. He fought
tirelessly for industrial reform. He became an
important agent for France's industrial recovery in
the 19th century.
Dupin made the same kind of voyage that many of us
have to make right here in America today. He went
to England to learn how to save his stagnating
country. We have to journey into our recent past to
learn the same lesson.
Like Dupin, we have to know that our greatness was
built on risk taking. It was built on education and
opportunity for all. And, like France in 1816,
those are virtues we too can still reclaim.
I'm John Lienhard, at the University of Houston,
where we're interested in the way inventive minds