"That the sun might become the source of their wealth”: A Forgotten History of Alternative Energy Technology in Nineteenth-Century France
Taratko, Carolyn Dee
This paper explores the construction and exhibition of the first solar-powered engine at the 1878 Exposition Universelle in Paris by Augustin-Bernard Mouchot (1825-1912). It traces the development of a discourse of resource management in light of a perceived coal shortage within France and across Europe in the closely interacting realms of science and politics. Engineers, geologists and political economists addressed and proposed solutions to the challenge of France’s relative coal poverty (in comparison to England and Germany). Surveys of coal resources were tied to estimates of national power and prestige. Looking at Mouchot’s invention helps to uncover the debates surrounding France’s industrial competitiveness during the Third Republic. This paper also raises questions about the failure of the device to be implemented over the long term, focusing on the geography of patronage in the French scientific establishment as well as the relationship between metropolitan-governed French science and the utility of a device designed and tested in Algeria.