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MAP: From aspirin to tyres - A tour of France by its famous inventors

We look at some of the greatest innovators the country has seen and their inventions that changed the world

France has a reputation as being a place of creativity, arts, culture and invention. 

That reputation is most commonly associated with Paris, but many of the country’s great inventors also came from other regions, as our map below shows. 

For example, did you know that the bin was invented by a Frenchman from Caen called Eugène Poubelle and the French word for bin, poubelle, is named after him? 

Poubelle was the préfet de la Seine in Paris in 1883, a position of significant influence as there were no mayors at that time. He issued a decree that year introducing the obligation to dispose of waste in closed containers. The Parisians quickly adopted his name to describe the containers. Despite its early introduction, the idea of bins would not be popularised until after World War Two.

Another French inventor born outside Paris is Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, who came from a small village near Chalon-sur-Saône and in 1826 took the first ever photograph with a camera.

The grainy picture shows Niépce’s view from the window of his house and is known as the Point de vue du Gras. 

Just over 10 years later, Louis Daguerre, who collaborated with Niépce, would take the first-ever known picture of a human being. His shot, taken on the Boulevard du Temple in Paris, shows a man getting his shoes shined. Because of the 10-minute exposure of the photo, other passers-by were not captured. 

Pic: Joseph Nicéphore Niépce — Rebecca A. Moss, Coordinator of Visual Resources and Digital Content Library, via email. College of Liberal Arts Office of Information Technology, University of Minnesota. 

Pic: Par Louis Daguerre — Scanned from The Photography Book, Phaidon Press, London, 1997., Domaine public

Yet another interesting inventor from outside Paris is the chemist Hippolyte Mèges-Mouries, born in Draguignan (Var) in the south, who in 1869 created margarine in response to Napoleon III’s call for a cheap butter substitute for his soldiers fighting in the Franco-Prussian war. 

In order to honour its best inventions, France has an annual award called the Concours Lépine

It has been running since 1901 and in that winners have included inventions such as the aspirateur Birum, an early hoover that won in 1907 and led to the creation of modern models. 

Winners also included the ballpoint pen, the two-stroke engine, the steam-powered clothes iron and contact lenses. 

To celebrate some of France’s best inventors and to show that not all of them came from Paris, we have assembled a map of where they were born and what they invented. 

From margarine, to the calculator to aspirin, there are many products that are still widely used today. 

It is possible that some of these inventions were created first elsewhere in a slightly different form, but all of the ones we include at least played a significant part in the development of the product we know today. 

Additionally, some of the dates of the invention are disputed, such as Champagne, for example, which depending on different sources was invented between 1668 and 1697 – or even earlier in England, according to some. 

Our map is sadly lacking in inventors from the southwest of the country. Do you know of any who came from that area, or any other part of France, worthy of a montion? Let us know at news@connexionfrance.com

The above map is part of our ongoing series showcasing different elements of French society and culture through maps. 

We have also written about French cheeses, funny commune names, local sweets and desserts, local aperitifs and many other topics. 

If you have any suggestions for maps you would like us to make or think we should add anything to our previous articles, let us know at news@connexionfrance.com.

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