PERRONET Jean-Rodolphe

Published on 4 February 2008

 

1708-1794

In 1747, a decree issued by the Royal Council appointed Jean-Rodolphe Perronet as head of the "Draughtsmen’s Office" that had recently been set up to centralize and conserve the maps and plans of the major roads in the kingdom, following a survey ordered in 1738 by the Inspector of Roads, Orry.

Perronet’s energetic for the district of Alençon came to the notice of Trudaine - the intendant of finances in charge of roads - who put him in charge of training sureyors and those drawing maps to provide competent staff for the Ponts et chaussées (Civil Engineering Department). This training was extended to Civil Engineers and the monitoring of their activities in the districts where they were sent. Thus began the history of France’s first school of engineering, which, in 1775, was to become the Ecole Royale des Ponts et Chaussées.

He devoted himself to the organization of the School with great efficiency and devotion throughout his life.

Perronet was an outstanding leader and teacher, and the "spiritual father" of the 350 engineers he trained during the 47 years in which he directed the school. Once they had qualified from the school Perronet was often responsible for their appointments and then followed their progress and gave them advice throughout their carreers. In spite of the reforms of his successors, in particular Lamblardie and Prony, his influence is still felt today.

Perronet’s work as an engineer is just as remarkable and innovative as his work as an administrator. This is witnessed by the twenty or so bridges he designed or built, inluding those at Mantes, Pont Saint-Maxence, Neuilly, and one in Paris (Pont de la Concorde).

 

He constructed more than 2500 km of tree-lined roads when working for the District of Paris, but also worked as a hydraulic engineer on the Canal de l’Yvette and Canal de Bièvre projects to supply Paris with drinking water, the harbours of Cherbourg and Saint Jean de Luz, and the Ports of Le Havre, Dunkerque and Saint Domingo. He also contributed, in an advisory capacity to a multitude of other projects.

Among his distinctions include his appointment as "Chief Engineer" in 1763, and Chief Architect, as well as his membership of the Academy of Sciences and the Academy of Architecture. Between 1757 and1786, he was Inspector General of Salt Flats and then, in 1768, became one of the three directors of the Cassini Map. In 1763 he was made a knight of the Order of Saint Michel by Louis XV. His qualities were also recognized in the early days of the revolution, when the Constituent Assembly granted him a pension of 22,600 pounds "because of his long and excellent service".

A frined of Voltaire, Diderot, Buffon and Belidor, and somtimes referred to as the "Vauban of Civil Engineering", Perronet passed away on 9 Ventôse of Year II (27 February 1794) in a small house near the Pont Louis XVI (Pont de la Concorde) whose completion in 1791 was the crowning point of an outstanding carreer...