This spring, the French Cultural Center will launch a new series on “French Innovation” highlighting advancements in medicine, fashion, and aerospace...all from France! This eye-opening series will offer lectures, interactive exhibits, and opportunities to meet several new innovators and their groundbreaking projects.

To tide you over until this series is formally announced on our Events Calendar and in our newsletter, here's a short intro into this topic with some of our favorite world-changing inventions from l'Hexagone. How many did you already know?

The Word "Entrepreneur" - Jean-Baptiste Say

What is innovation without entrepreneurs? The term "entrepreneur" was coined by economist Jean-Baptiste Say (1767-1832). Upon studying Adam Smith's book, The Wealth of Nations, Say highlighted its omission of enterprising businessmen.(1)

Say pointed out that, “The entrepreneur shifts economic resources out of an area of lower and into an area of higher productivity and greater yield.”(2)



The Grandfathers of Selfies - Nicéphore Niépce, Louis Daguerre, and Philippe Kahn

In 1822, inventor Nicéphore Niépce produced the first permanent photo etching image. In fact, his View from the Window at Le Gras (image) is the earliest surviving photo from nature. At first, his photographs required between eight hours to several days for exposure. However, with partner Louis Daguerre, Niépce improved the process from hours to minutes. In 1838, Daguerre took the earliest confirmed photograph of a person while capturing a view of a Paris street.(3)

Fast forward 175 years, and we find Philippe Kahn creating the first camera phone to announce the birth of his daughter. By rigging a mobile phone with a digital camera, he was able to send photos after her birth in real time.(3)

The Bread of Equality - the Baguette

Although the word "baguette" may have come into use in the early twentieth century, the exact origin of the bread is a bit of a mystery. One popular story dates to the Convention (the post-Revolution government) in 1793, which stated:

“Richness and poverty must both disappear from the government of equality. It will no longer make a bread of wheat for the rich and a bread of bran for the poor. All bakers will be held, under the penalty of imprisonment, to make only one type of bread: The Bread of Equality.” (4)

Another popular theory dates to October 1920 and a French law preventing bakers from working before 4 AM, making it impossible to make traditional, round loaves in time for breakfast. But the slender baguette could be prepared and baked much faster, thus solving the problem.(3)

While we may not know who invented the baguette or why, we do know one thing - we're happy it exists!

Essential Medicines - Quinine and Aspirin, Pierre Joseph Pelletier, Joseph Bienaimé Caventou, and Charles Frédéric Gerhardt

In 1820, Pierre Joseph Pelletier and Joseph Bienaimé Caventou isolated the chemical quinine in Cinchona plant bark.(3) Today, the World Health Organization recognizes quinine as an essential medicine for its use in the treatment of malaria.(6)

Aspirin, another WHO essential medicine, was also created by the French! In 1853, chemist Charles Frédéric Gerhardt, was the first to prepare acetylsalicylic acid. In the course of his work on the synthesis and properties of various acid anhydrides, he created a compound he called “salicylic-acetic anhydride." That was first preparation of aspirin!

I Sea You! - Jeanne Villepreux-Power

After conducting scientific studies in Sicily in 1832, naturalist Villepreux-Power created the first glass aquarium to observe the paper nautilus in controlled conditions. In fact, she went on to prove the creature created its own shell (popular opinion at the time said otherwise).

Villepreux-Power also designed two variations of her aquarium: a glass apparatus within a cage to study shallow water creatures, and a cage-like aquarium that could be raised and lowered to different depths. In recognition of her work, Villepreux-Power became the first female member of the Accademia di Catania.(5)


And there you have it! Five (okay, seven) fabulous, French inventions. This list is only scratching the surface of the amazing, life-changing innovations that have come from France. Want to learn more or see what new innovations are coming from France today? Sign up for our weekly newsletter, Les Nouvelles, in which we'll announce the launch of our "French Innovation" spring series!

PS - Wondering why we included an image of a hot air balloon? We have the French to thank for that, too! Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier and François Laurent d'Arlandes performed the first untethered, manned hot air balloon flight on November 21, 1783, in Paris, France, in a balloon created by the Montgolfier brothers.(7)





Sources:
(1) https://www.investopedia.com/ask/answers/08/origin-of-entrepreneur.asp
(​2) https://www.economist.com/news/2009/04/27/entrepreneurship
(​3) https://www.leapfrogging.com/2015/11/17/10-french-innovations-that-changed-history/
(​4) https://bonjourparis.com/food-and-drink/history-baguette-legends-laws-and-lengthy-loaves/
(​5) https://www.amightygirl.com/blog?p=12223
(6) https://www.who.int/medicines/publications/essentialmedicines/EML2015_8-May-15.pdf
(7) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hot_air_balloon

Jamie Haslett

Director of Marketing

Originally from New Jersey, Jamie graduated from the University of Rhode Island with a degree in International Business and a minor in French. She also completed a semester abroad in Marseille, France. Jamie fell in love with the French language as a child when her sister brought home a high school French book, and looks forward to continuing her education at the French Cultural Center.

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