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1. Rival wind-engines

Though the Éoliennes Bollée were made in quantity, they were never able to dominate the areas — Sarthe included — in which they were marketed. Many other designs were promoted, and though many of the most interesting designs were distributed on nothing other than a local basis, those that were based on American-type single-rotor designs prospered.

A catalogue published in the early 1930s by René Araou of Narbonne (Aube) pictured single-rotor installations in Yonne, in Grange-la-Bocage (1931), Sergines (1914) and Thorigny-sur-Oreuse (1930). These were large and impressive machines; the Sergines example, with a rotor diameter of twelve metres, was the largest Araou had installed prior to the First World War.

It mattered little whether the mechanical efficiency of large single-rotor machines was poorer than an Éolienne Bollée: they were simple, cheap to install, and easy to run. Even though their construction was more basic, there is no evidence that they were any more prone to fail than a Bollée rival; consequently, surprising numbers can still be found in France.

Among the earliest efforts to provide self-regulating wind engines were the designs of Amédée Durand (1789–1873) and an otherwise obscure mechanic named Jassenne. Durand published Note sur un moulin à vent s'orientant et se réglant de lui-même par M Amédée Durand, c. 1836, and at least two six-sail machines were made — one sited on the roof of the hôtel de ville of Verberoy (Oise) and another on a 12-metre tower near Montbron in the Gironde. Made largely of wood, these machines had ‘trailing’ blade-discs; the sails rotated axially to spill the wind, but were returned by a chain-and-weight mechanism when the wind speed dropped. The Durand design showed the merits of self regulation some years before the American Halladay, who is customarily given the credit, and inspired a series of similar wind engines credited to Prosper Dellon in the 1870s.

The Jassenne machine, exhibited in Paris in 1855, had a small-diameter blade disc set at the base of a large truncated cone. This was effectively an entonnoir (augmenter) and, owing to the magnitude of the difference between the diameters at the leading and trailing edges, would have been more effective that the design patented in 1885 by Auguste Bollée!

One of the most impressive survivals was originally made by Henri David of Orléans, in an area that is often considered to be dominated by Bollée machines, and erected in the commune of Pargues in Aude. Though now fitted with a small-diameter rotor of unknown origin, this installation originally had a hugely impressive Eclipse-type rotor mounted on one of the most substantial and decorative wind-engine towers ever built. David claimed to have patented his system in France in 1878, but was responsible in reality for little more than ‘improvements’ to established North American practice.

Among many other French manufacturers were Ateliers Mécaniques du Languedoc (Auster brand) of Narbonne in Aube; La Société CEMA of Belleville-sur-Saone in Rhône (Idéale); and Maurice Ledoux & Co. of Paris, Bordeaux and Lille (Ledoux). Major distributors included Maison Beaume, a manufacturer of pumps and béliers hydrauliques founded in Boulogne-près-Paris in 1860, and Th. Pilter of Paris. Pilter, one of the largest agricultural-goods suppliers, sold American-made wind engines in competition with rival businesses throughout rural France.

The Éolienne Bollée power head in La Fredonnière, erected by Georges Duplay in 1926/27, was placed on top of a pylon that had been built by Pilter in 1911. Étienne Rogier, in L'électricité éolienne de la Belle Epoque à EDF records that: “…most [wind engines] were imported from the USA, though French industrialists also promoted products of their own, either made under licence or original designs like the Éolienne Bollée… The majority were provided by businesses like Schabaver of Castres (Tarn), with a ‘Halladay’ mill of American origin, but perfected [in Castres]. Bonnet in Toulouse, Araou in Narbonne, Péra in Florensac (Hérault) all offered ‘Eureka’ mills. Bompard of Nîmes sold the ‘Steel Star’, then made ‘Série CA’ and ‘Série A’ machines. The large agricultural-goods wholesalers also included wind engines in their catalogues, like, for example, Pilter with the ‘Samson’ mill and Wallut with the ‘Star’. There were also much more modest outputs such as those of Fafeur and Durand-Roger in Carcassonne…”

Above. An advert by Veuve [widow] Araou and her sons, c. 1905, and a leaflet produced by Société CEMA of Belleville-sur-Saone after the Second World War. By courtesy of J. Kenneth Major and André Gaucheron.

The French periodical Le Génie Civil, in an article published in the August 1890 issue, focusing on exhibits in the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1889, highlighted French designs including the ‘Moteur à vent H. Rossin’. This had fixed sails, and thus ran at a speed determined by the wind. A handbrake operated by a flywheel was used to stop the machine manually, but the mechanism included a mechanical governor to luff the rotor by moving it parallel with the fantail.

A few Rossin-style wind engines were installed in the Rhône valley, where they proved sturdy enough to withstand the assault of the mistral. One stood near Colleville railway station of the Chemin der fer de l’Ouest, filling a water tank, and another, owned by the Chemin de fer de Grand Ceinture de Paris, stood at Valentin près la Gare de Villeneuve-Saint-Georges.

The ‘Turbine atmosphérique System A. Dumont’ was a remarkable design based on a series of helical vanes, protected in the perfected version by a cylindrical sheet-metal shroud. One example was installed by the commune of Orgelet (Jura), and a survivor in Bourgogne has been given the status of a historic monument.

Another important ‘rival’—though production does not seem to have been large—was the single-rotor Lebert design. Currently, very little is known about this, excepting that it was introduced immediately prior to 1906. However, two postcards found in the collection of the late J. Kenneth Major showed machines erected prior to 1914 in Parigné-l’Évêque (Sarthe) and Rugles (Eure) which may represent the Lebert design. Another has recently been found showing an installation in Guignonville, a village in the Beauce close to Pithiviers.

Machines of this type have small controlling fans, capable of rotating through 90 degrees, that appear to precede a single multi-blade rotor carried on a horizontal wind shaft. These similarities are too similar to the Bollée design to be entirely coincidental, and, in addition, the construction of the pylons duplicates that of the Lebert-type Éoliennes Bollée.

 Above. Two pre-1914 picture-postcards—Parigné-l’Évêque (left) and Rugles (right)—showing what may be the Lebert single-rotor éolienne. Note how the controlling fan (arrowed) can clearly rotate around a vertical axis in the same way as the Papillon of the Éolienne Bollée. John Walter collection.

Many picture-postcards produced prior to 1939 also have information to contribute. The manufacturers and distributors were keen to promote their own particular wind engines, and the generously proportioned fantails provided an ideal background for brand- or company names. Typical are views of a machine in the Camp de Mailly (Aube) and another in Noyers (Yonne), marked ‘Zephyr’ and ‘ARAOU Fres. NARBONNE’ respectively.

Substantial numbers of single-rotor machines survive throughout France. Reliable information is disappointingly difficult to find, though photographs of more than sixty ‘anciennes pompes éoliennes’ (including several Bollée machines) may be found on the website of the Commission Française pour la Protection de Patrimoine Historique et Rural (CFPPHR). These are include sites in the Départements of Aube (10), Hérault (34), Indre-et-Loire (37), Loir-et-Cher (41), Loiret (45), Puy-de-Dôme (63), Pyrénées-Orientales (66), Seine-et-Marne (77), Yvelines (78), Yonne (89), Essonne (91) and Val-de-Oise (95).

However, though some of the indigenous French inventions attained local notoriety, none was able to challenge the Éolienne Bollée for sheer style.

2. The hydraulic ram

The hydraulic ram, or bélier hydraulique, was a French invention — the work of Joseph de Montgolfier (1740-1810), though the patents granted in 1797-8 often bore the additional names of Etienne de Montgolfier (1745-99) and Ami Argand (1755-1803). Argand, inventor of the ‘Argand Lamp’, was friendly with Matthew Boulton of Boulton & Watt, and the English patent was granted in the name of Boulton alone. Unfortunately, the patent pecification omitted to explain that the invention had been ‘communicated from abroad’ and credit has subsequently been given to Matthew Boulton or even James Watt!

The first ram was installed in the Montgolfier paper-making factory in Voiron (Ardèche), where, as Joseph de Montgolfier recorded in 1802, it had ‘raised water furnished by the stream to the height of my hollanders, profiting by a fall of 10 ft.; an operation which allowed me to dispense with water wheels, pumps and other hydraulioc machines ordinarily employed’.

Montgolfier continued to refine the ram until his death, work being continued by his son Pierre François (1775-1856)—who, to lasting confusion, assumed the forename ‘Joseph’. Rams were made in England from about 1822 onward by Josiah Easton, assignee of Montgolfier’s patent, and in the USA by Douglas & Company of Middletown, Connecticut, from 1847 onward.

The ram uses the flow of water to raise water to a greater height. It consists of a supply pipe, a stout receiver (or ‘air chamber’), two valves and a delivery pipe. Water flowing down an inclined pipe generates sufficient pressure to open a valve in the base of the receiver. A small portion of the water immediately diverts into the chamber, with great force, to compress the air. When the pressure of the air has risen far enough to overcome the inrushing water, the inlet valve closes. At this point, the pressure of the air is greater than the pressure exerted by the flow of water along the supply pipe and keeps the inlet valve firmly shut; the delivery valve then opens, allowing the air trapped in the receiver to expand. This forces water up a delivery pipe and out into a reservoir. Expelling water, however, reduces the air pressure until it is no longer sufficient to oppose the flow in the supply pipe. The delivery valve soon closes, the inlet valve opens, and the inrushing water compresses the air again — an action that recurs many times each minute to deliver a pulsing outflow into the reservoir.

The ram proved to be simple, sturdy, and an effective way of raising water. The quantity raised can only be a small part of the flow (about 6 per cent in the earliest examples), but this was of no consequence if the water was provided by a stream.

Ernest-Sylvain Bollée obtained a patent protecting a hydraulic ram (bélier hydraulique) in 1857, but fell seriously ill in the 1860s and his middle son, Ernest-Jules (1846–1922?), thereafter supervised the manufacture and distribution of the rams. The output of Bollée-type hydraulic rams was substantial, and they gained a variety of awards. According to the report of the 1878 Paris Exposition, 400 rams had been installed; this total had risen to 600 by the time of 1889 Paris Exposition Universelle and to more than 850 by 1894. Ernest-Jules Bollée was claiming to have made 1800 when the First World War began in the summer of 1914.

The Château du Breuil site (1891) is a particularly interesting. A No. 3 Éolienne Bollée raised water from river-level to a large intermediate tank, allegedly designed by Gustave Eiffel. The water then ran back to operate a hydraulic ram, which lifted a portion of the run-off an additional 25 metres to serve the needs of the château, the reservoirs for the vegetable gardens, and the hillside sheep-pastures. The run-off from the hydraulic ram supply pipe irrigated the pastures that lay farther down the hillside, and any surplus was supplied to the neighbouring village.

The Château de Bonnetable still possesses a ram in addition to a post-1894 column-type Éolienne Bollée, now apparently restored to working order. Rams may also be found in the grounds of the Château de la Ménardière, near the commune of Maziéres en Gâtine (installed in 1877); in the grounds of Le Tapis Vert, a late nineteenth-century mansion in Les Alpes Mancelles; and in the grounds of the Château de la Fontaine.

Above left: a ninteenth-century engraving of the Bollée hydraulic ram or bélier hydraulique. By courtesy of Francis Bonneteaud.

3. Pumps

In addition to the hydraulic rams, Ernest-Sylvain and Auguste-Sylvain Bollée installed conventional pumps on a few sites where alternative sources of power were already available. These are assumed to have included windmills, wind engines and possibly water wheels, but few details are known. The catalogues produced by Auguste-Sylvain Bollée prior to February 1894 list these "élévations d'eau par roues hydrauliques ou autres moteurs avec pompes (Système Bollée)":

Barbée (Château de La), Sarthe; 1877.
Bonneterie (Château de), Indre-et-Loire, 'près Neuillé'; 1885.
Broglie (Château de), Eure; pumps installed, 1880.
Château-du-Loir, Sarthe; 1878.
Château-la-Vallière, Sarthe; pumps to supply water for local commune, 1871.
Claignes (Château de) Oise, Crépy-en-Valois; 1883.
Combourg (Château de), Ille-Et-Villaine; 1879.
Couture (Château de), Sarthe, 'à Saint-Michel-de-Chavaignes'; 1889.
Dampont (Château de) Seine-Et-Oise, 'à Ws-Marines' [sic]; 1883.
Mesnil-Glaise (Château de) Orne, 'par Écouché'; 1882.
Montifray (Château de), Indre-et-Loire, Beaumont-la-Ronce; 1886.
Orbec-en-Auge, Calvados; six pumps for public water supply, 1883.
Perrais (Château de[s]), Sarthe, 'à Parigné-le-Pôlin'; 1885.
Reignac (Château de), Indre-Et-Loire, Reignac[-sur-Indre]; 1887.
Saint-Calais, Sarthe; pumps for the abbatoir and the local commune, 1885.
Saint-Quentin-des-Isles (Château de), Eure, Saint-Quentin; 1882.
Theil (Château du), Vienne, 'par Chauvigny'; 1889.