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Auguste Perdonnet

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Auguste Perdonnet ( -c1867)


1868 Obituary [1]

M. AUGUSTE PERDONNET was of Swiss origin, and was regularly educated as a Civil Engineer in the E'cole des Mines, at Paris.

On leaving, in 1822, he pursued the study of mining and metallurgy with his friend M. Coste, while on a visit to England, and they together published their observations under the title of Voyage Metallurgique. The manufacture of iron by coal had at this time made but slight progress in France, although extensively practised in England. M. Perdonnet saw the advantages of the system, and boldly advocated its adoption, which, had it been followed, would have accelerated the transformation of the iron industry in France.

It was also while he wag in England that he became convinced that public works could only receive their proper development from a large participation of private industry in their execution and working. The doctrines of social economy propagated in 1830 by men in general educated at the Ecole Polytechnique were only accepted after long discussions, so far as related to the serious question of accomplishing public services by large associations.

To further these views M. Perdonnet, with his friends, established a debating club, with which he associated the entire though small body of Civil Engineers, among whom he acquired considerable influence. At this time it was urged that there was no room for the exercise of the profession of civil engineering, on the ground that it was a tentative system, and trespassed on the domain of the government engineers ; and this doctrine would have probably triumphed had it not been for the discovery and inauguration of railways. The development of these M. Perdonnet furthered with the greatest zeal, and it was by this happy circumstance that the profession acquired a standing. But besides the old pupils of the Ecole Polytechnipue and some other self-made engineers, so few men had received a sufficiently scientific education to meet the requirements of the new art, that it would have become necessary to call in foreign engineers. However, M. Perdonnet, who had been meanwhile called upon to join the Ecole Centrale as its director, considered it a suitable means for forming engineers fit to undertake public works granted to companies, and established a course of lectures on the construction of railways. His Traite des Chemins de fer, and Portefeuille de I'lngenieur, embody at once his learned lectures, and the universal experience of engineers.

For when it was necessary to gather information, to control a new method, or to make known and apply a new discovery, he spared neither time nor expense. Received everywhere as an accomplished master, he was able to gather together precise data respecting all the facts which constantly arose in the still novel industry of railways ; and he contributed almost more than any one else in France to its rapid extension, by the exact information he published, by his impartial criticisms, and by his enlightened judgment.

One incident will serve to show the devotion with which he accomplished his duties, and his desire to justify the confidence he inspired. When the completion of the railway on the left bank of the Seine from Paris to Versailles was suspended from lack of capital, a subvention was demanded from the Government. A schedule of the probable expenses was prepared by M. Perdonnet, and was accepted by the Administration ; but the Commission of the Chamber of Deputies hesitated, despite the care with which the schedule had been prepared. One of the members knowing that. M. Perdonnet was rich, having asked him if he would guarantee the sum by his private fortune, the latter did not hesitate to undertake to do so,-an offer which, though not accepted by the Commission, had a decisive influence on the favourable decision which was arrived at.

Besides being director of the Ecole Imperiale Cerdrale des Arts et Manufactures and President of the Association Polytechnique, M. Perdonnet was for many years administrator and director of the Chemin de fer de l'Est, and retained this post until his death.

He was also a director of the Chenlin de fer de l'Ouest Suisse. He was President of the Society of Civil Engineers of France for the year 1151 ; and on retiring from the occupation of the chair, was elected Honorary President.

He was elected a Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers on the 4th of December, 1860, and died at Cannes on the 27th of September, 1867, of a dropsical affection of several years' standing, and which finally attacked the brain.


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