Skip to content

Year: 1823-1827
Promoters: French Society for the Encouragement of Industry
Prize: 6,000 Francs (Today's value £15,700)
Winner: Benoit Fourneyron

After Napoleon, France needed to rebuild its reputation and continue to industrialise. The French Society for the Encouragement of Industry was established to promote invention and keep France competitive with her neighbours.

Revolutionising the widespread but inefficient waterwheel was considered a must, leading to the offer of this award, which called for the design of a large scale, commercially viable hydraulic turbine. At only 25 years of age, Benoit Fourneyron had followed his mathematician father into the sciences.

Benoit was a first-class engineer, and inherited blueprints for a much-criticised turbine design from his former professor. Fourneyron set out to produce a prototype and his faith in his teacher was rewarded – Fourneyron’s turbine became an international phenomenon across Europe and the New World, aiding a New England textiles boom.

Fourneyron turbines were even installed at the Niagara Falls in 1895 – one of the first steps towards the large-scale hydroelectric power technology we have today.