Arthur Jules Morin


Born: 19 October 1795 in Paris, France
Died: 7 February 1880 in Paris, France


Arthur Jules Morin grew up at a turbulent time in French history although Paris was peaceful during much of his youth. He was only four years old when Napoleon Bonaparte became first consul and by 1802 peace reigned in Europe. However soon hostilities broke out again and, despite the naval defeat at Trafalgar in 1805, the French armies won decisive victories against Austrian and Russian armies. Morin was fifteen in 1810 when Napoleon was at the height of his power and Paris thrived. The disastrous Russian campaign of 1812 saw Napoleon return to Paris to strengthen his power and his army. By this time Morin was studying at the École Polytechnique and the next two years saw the French position deteriorate and the French army suffered a humiliating defeat at the Battle of Leipzig in October 1813. As the armies of the allies moved towards Paris in 1814, Morin had to terminate his studies at the École Polytechnique and join in the efforts to defend Paris. As Napoleon led the remnants of the French army east to attack the rear of the enemy troops approaching Paris, Talleyrand, as head of the government in Paris, ordered the city to capitulate.

Following the Treaty of Fontainebleau which ended hostilities, Morin's defence duties ended and he entered the École d'Application de Metz where he undertook practical studies in engineering. There he met Jean-Victor Poncelet who was a military engineer. Morin remained at Metz for four years, and then entered the army as a lieutenant in the pontoon unit which had been created in the 1790s. It was certainly an appropriate unit for an engineer with Morin's interests and the pontoon unit had been an important feature of Napoleon's army carrying pontoons of wood, copper, or other material [2]:-

His military career was marked by a rapid and regular promotion through the different grades, terminating in his appointment as an Artillery General of Division in 1855.

It was on 7 April 1855 that Morin reached the rank of General of Division, having been made général de brigade on 26 March 1852. However, he had much more to his life than a military career. In the 1830s he taught mechanics at Metz, He was appointed to the newly created chair of mechanics at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers in 1839. This National Conservatory of Arts and Crafts had been opened in 1802 and ordered to:-

... improve the nation's industry, cultivate engineering methods, teach widely and illuminate ignorance.

The teaching of mechanics at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers had begun in 1819 and other theoretical subjects had been introduced in the 1820s. As professor of mechanics Morin, who never renounced his army commission, drew heavily on the theoretical and practical work of his friend and teacher Poncelet and of other military officers. He also used the Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers to promote a two-way flow of theory and practice between the military and private industry. Morin was Professor of Mechanics for ten years, and then in 1849 he became Director of the Conservatoire. He served in this leading role for 30 years and greatly improved the efficiency and influence of the Conservatoire. One of his greatest achievements was opening the first teaching laboratory of engineering in 1852.

One might wonder how a military man became Professor of Mechanics. Well he had spent much time undertaking research into problems of mechanics and between 1833 and 1835 he had submitted a number of important memoirs to the Academy of Sciences. These memoirs presented the results of a series of carefully executed experiments on friction which he began planning in 1829. Due to the complicated experimental apparatus used, built under the supervision of Poncelet, the experiments only began in May 1831. They then continued without interruption until September of that year, when funds given for the research were used up. The results confirmed and extended Coulomb's work on friction, verifying its three general laws: friction is proportional to the normal force exerted; friction depends upon the nature of the surfaces in contact but is independent of the area of contact; and, within large limits, friction is independent of velocity. He also devised an apparatus to study the laws of falling bodies. It consisted of a cylinder rotating beside the falling body, set up in such a way that a marker on the falling body describes a curve on the cylinder. He was able to give an accurate experimental proof of Galileo's result that distances travelled by a falling body increase as the square of the times. In 1849 Morin, working with Poncelet, invented the dynamometer of rotation, which together with later refinements, became the basic investigative tool in the study of work. He had already published work on dynamometers in Notice sur divers appareils dynamometriques (Paris, 1841), a work which describes the recording mechanism onto paper, as well as describing a mechanical integrator used so that results of longer experiments could be read off directly. His results on mechanics were all published in the five volume work Leçons de mécanique pratique à l'usage des auditeurs des cours du Conservatoire des arts et métiers (1846-1853). Joseph Bennett made an English translation under the title Fundamental ideas of mechanics and experimental data which was published in 1860.

During 1853-56 Morin undertook a series of experiments on the resistance of building materials which he published in a series of papers. This work was important in having practical applications to architecture. He published the results in a book form in 1863 when the two volume work Résistance des matériaux appeared. Let us mention a selection of his other works: Nouvelles expériences sur le frottement, faites à Metz en 1831 (1832), Expériences sur les roues hydrauliques à axe vertical appelées turbines (1838), Expériences sur le tirage des voitures, faites en 1837 et 1838 (1839), Notice sur divers appareils dynamométriques (1841), Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers. Catalogue des collections (1851), Notions géometriques sur les mouvement et leurs transformations, oŁ élémens de cinématique (1857), Rapport de la commission sur le chauffage et la ventilation du Palais de Justice (1860), Etudes sur la Ventilation (1863), Des machines et appareils: destines a l'elevation des eaux (1863), Notes sur les appareils de chauffage (1866), and Salubrité des habitations. Manuel pratique du chauffage et de la ventilation (1868). His work on ventilation made him a leading world expert on the topic, and he used this knowledge in undertaking research into carbon monoxide in rooms heated by iron stoves in 1869 and research into the preservation of flour in 1870.

Another important role that Morin filled was as President of the Commission for the first Universal Exhibition which opened in Paris in May 1855. The Commission had spent more than two years in elaborate preparation for the Exhibition, which was designed to symbolise peace and culture. The aim was to impress those who visited the enormous halls with France's achievements in commerce and industry [4]:-

The exhibition buildings were designed to exploit the use of metal and glass as structural materials. The exhibits they contained were similarly dominated by a common fascination with novelty and a closely related faith in the material promise of technological progress. ... in the effort to be more truly universal, its organisers included with its industrial display a vast retrospective exhibition of paintings, sculpture, prints and architecture to recall man's accomplishments in the arts, as well as in science, technology, and business.

Not only was Morin the President of the Commission, he also exhibited some of his apparatus. For example, he exhibited [3]:-

... a totalizing anemometer, one of a series which was to be set into chimneys in the new buildings of the Palais de Justice in order to monitor ventilation. ... [it] was a substantial piece, consisting of six aluminium vanes arranged in a helix ... and set upon a steel axis. The revolutions were counted through a series of gear wheels, so as to indicate the volume of air passing through the shaft in a period of time. Despite the long gear train and its considerable size, the anemometer was extremely sensitive.

Morin received many honours for his contributions. He was elected to the mechanics section of the Academy of Sciences in 1843 to succeed Gaspard-Gustave de Coriolis who died in September of that year. He was decorated with the Légion d'Honneur in 1858 and then in 1862 he was elected to the French Society of Civil Engineers and later served as their president.

In the issue of Nature which appeared on 5 February 1880 the following report appears:-

We regret to state that General Morin, the well-known director of the Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers, is lying in a very precarious state in consequence of a severe cold. Great anxiety is felt for him at the Institute, of which he is one of the most respected and popular members. The General is aged 85 years.

In the following issue of Nature [2], his death in Paris on 7 February was reported.

Article by: J J O'Connor and E F Robertson

December 2008


MacTutor History of Mathematics
[http://www-history.mcs.st-andrews.ac.uk/Biographies/Morin.html]