Grace's Guide

British Industrial History

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Jules-Albert de Dion

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Marquis Jules Félix Philippe Albert de Dion (March 9, 1856, Carquefou, Loire-Atlantique - August 19, 1946) was a pioneer of the automobile industry in France.

Scion of a leading French noble family and "a notorious duellist", de Dion had a passion for mechanics. He had already built a model steam engine when, in 1881, he saw one in a store window and asked about building another. The engineers George Bouton and his brother-in-law, Charles Trepardoux, had a shop in Léon where they made scientific toys. Needing money for Trépardoux's long-time dream of a steam car, they acceded to De Dion's request.

During 1883 they formed a partnership which became the De Dion-Bouton automobile company, the world's largest automobile manufacturer for a time. They tried marine steam engines, but progressed to a steam car which used belts to drive the front wheels whilst steering with the rear. This was destroyed by fire during trials.

In 1884 they built another with steerable front wheels and drive to the rear wheels. It was capable of carrying four people.

Comte de Dion entered one in an 1887 trial, "Europe's first motoring competition", the brainchild of one M. Fossier of cycling magazine Le Vélocipède. Evidently, the promotion was insufficient, for the de Dion was the sole entrant, but it completed the course.

The "dead axle" named for him was actually invented by steam advocate Trépardoux, just before he resigned because the company was turning to internal combustion.

Comte de Dion also founded the Mondial de l'Automobile (Paris Motor Show) in 1898.

He died in 1946, age 90.

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