French Language Blog

France’s Contributions to the World (Part 2) Posted by on Nov 21, 2014 in Culture

In part 1 of this mini-series, we looked at six of the greatest French contributions to the world. Today, let’s look at few more you might find interesting. This series is meant not only to be informative but also to help you cultivate a deeper appreciation of French culture and its impact on world history.

1. Science: The quantity and scale of scientific discoveries has grown exponentially in the last two hundred years. Each new discovery opens the door to new ones that give us greater insight into the way things work and often improves our lives. Henri Becquerel was a French physicist responsible for discovering radioactivity while Pierre and Marie Curie greatly advanced our knowledge of radioactivity through their discovery of radium and polonium. All three were the recipients of the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1903. Microbiologist and chemist Louis Pasteur developed vaccines for rabies, chicken cholera and anthrax and pioneered the process of pasteurization to which he lent his name.

2. Système International d’Unités (International System of Units): Yes, it was France that developed the metric system, the most widespread system of measurement in the world today. The system was devised in 1795 to replace the irrational and confusing system of weights and measures at the time that comprised several thousand units of measure. The idea was to develop a system based on multiples of ten and thus the mètre (meter), gramme (gram) and litre (liter) became the basic units of measure that remain the international standard in the 21st century.

3. Cinématographie (Cinematography): Brothers Auguste and Louis Lumière developed the very first commercially viable projector called the Cinématographe in 1895. This marked the dawn of movie history. The brothers would go on to produce forty short films in 1896 alone.

4. Braille: Louis Braille became blind at the age of three and twelve years later developed a system of writing and printing for the blind while attending the Institution Nationale des Jeunes Aveugles (National Institute for Blind Children) in Paris in 1824. Braille consists of sixty-three characters used as part of a six-dot system made of cells and is the most widespread writing system for the blind in use today.

5. Montgolfière et Parachute (Hot air balloon and Parachute): You might be surprised to learn that these too methods of aerial transport were invented by the French. Like the Lumière brothers, Joseph-Michel and his brother Jacques-Étienne Montgolfier were another pair of inventors who in 1783 successfully demonstrated the very first manned flight. The balloon flew over Paris and remained airborne twenty-five minutes. Although famed Italian polymath Leonardo Da Vinci came up with the idea of a parachute in 1483 (and the Chinese may even have invented it centuries before) it was French aeronaut Louis-Sébastien Lenormand who, in 1783, performed the first successful parachute landing that made parachuting a viable feat.

6. Photographie (Photography): French inventor Nicéphore Niépce can be credited with creating the first permanent photographic image c. 1826 by way of the heliographic (sun drawing) process that used light to produce pictures. Niépce’s interest in lithography led him to develop this method as a way to compensate for his lack of artistic ability. The exposure time lasted a total of eight hours but his invention paved the way for future development of the photographic process.

Many of these French inventions have shaped the world as we know it today. The next time you watch a movie, take a photograph, or use the metric system, take a moment to remember the origins of these inventions and the ways they have enhanced your life. Thanks to Niépce, we can capture moments in time and cherish memories through photographs for many years to come. Thanks to les frères Lumière (the Lumière brothers), we can be entertained, informed and moved by motion pictures. Because of Louis Pasteur, we now have vaccines against certain deadly diseases while the contributions of the Curies and Becquerel have opened the door to breakthroughs in chemistry and nuclear physics.

Of course, there are many more inventions attributed to the French but it would take a book to explore them all in detail. So join me in saying “Merci, la France!” (Thank you, France!)

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