Published on 4 February 2008



Orphaned at the age of 9, Navier was adopted by his great uncle, the famous engineer Gauthey who took charge of his education. Shortly after his first appointment as an engineer he started to gather together and publish the major works of his adoptive father, in particular his Traité sur la construction des ponts (Treatise on the construction of bridges).

While working for the Seine Département he built the Choisy, Asnières and Argenteuil bridges and the Passerelle de la Cité in Paris.

After a number of visits to England between 1821 and 1823, to learn about, for example, the condition of stone pavements, railways and railway legislation, the movement of wagons on bends, the use of locomotives and the effect of gradients for example, he wrote his famous thesis on suspension bridges. He was asked to join the Mechanical Section of the Academy of Sciences in 1824 to replace Bréguet.

Suddenly, in 1827 things changed dramatically when Paris City Council decided to demolish the monumental suspension bridge consisting of a single 155m arch that he had just finished building opposite the Invalides.The fracture of a watermain had caused settlement that weakened the retaining buttress on the right bank. In spite of the fierce defence of his project by Prony who planned to strengthen the buttresses, nothing could change the course of events. Navier never recovered from this setback which he frequently mentioned in his writings.

He was Elsenman’s assistant as professor of Applied Mechanics at the Ecole des Ponts et Chaussées, and succeeded to the post in 1819. In 1831, he was also appointed Professor of Analysis and Mechnics at the Polytechnique after Cauchy’s resignation.

Navier was a friend and disciple of Fourier, and was the author of many papers on the equilibrium of elastic solid bodies, the mechanical action of fuels, the movement of fluids and the flow of liquids through pipes.

He also directed the re-edition of two fundamental studies by Bélidor: Engineering Science (La science des ingénieurs) (1813) and a highly reworked version of the first volume of Hydraulic architecture (L’architecture hydraulique) (1819).

In addition, Navier wrote several reports on the Paris-Le Havre railway line, public works concessioning, and traffic policing. He was appointed Head Inspector in 1835, but died prematurely and still disconsolate at the age of only 51.