BIENVENÜE Fulgence

Published on 4 February 2008

 

1852-1936

Known as "the father of the metro", Fulgence Bienvenüe started out by studying Classics but, against all expectations, decided to study at the Ecole Polytechnique, then the Ecole des Ponts et Chaussées, before starting a career that lasted 48 years, exceptional long for an engineer.

His first job was in Normandy, at Alençon and foreshadowed his future specialization, as it involved the construction of railway lines. However, six years later a tragic industrial accident in which he lost his left arm almost brought his career to a close.

Then, in 1886 he obtained a post working for the Paris Highways Department and amply demonstrated his capacities during construction of te Avenue de la République and the Belleville cable railway. In 1895, in the run-up to the Universal Exhibition of 1900, the Paris City Council, relaunched the forty year-old project for a metro system and contacted Bienvenüe.

His proposal for a metro with electric traction was accepted and works began in 1898. Bienvenüe was given two years to build and open the first underground urban railway line (or "metro") between Porte de Vincennes and Porte Maillot. The deadline was met, and visitors to the Universal Exhibition were much impressed by the speed and efficiency of the new transport system. Indeed so successful was it that the Paris Municipal Council decided to construct a genuine underground network. Bineveüe then directed the extension of the network. Progress was exceptionally rapid as in 1914, on the eve of the First World War, the network was largely complete.

 

By the time Bienvenüe retired in 1932, 800 millions passengers a year were using the metro, which had a total of 139 km of track.

In addition to his work on the Metro, from 1911, Bienvenüe managed the Highways, Lighting and Cleansing Departments. During the war it became clear that waterways could be of vital importance for the Paris Region’s economy. In 1917 he became Director of the Paris Port Department and assumed responsibility for the canals in the city and its region. In this context he directed a number of construction projects, for example the improvement of the Canal Saint-Denis and the construction of the Port of Gennevilliers, while still continuing to extend the metro system.

At the age of 80, and after being called back to work several times, Bienvenüe went into well-earned retirement, returning to his first love, Ancient Greek authors, and his favorite philosophers, Pascal and Descartes.