Jacqueline Bonnet had never been in the house where her ancestor, Nicéphore Niépce, succeeded for the first time in history in fixing an image. Last week, she went there with her son in a sort of pilgrimage to Saint-Loup-de-Varennes.
I knew this house for having passed by many many times. People would tell me: that’s the place! But I had never gone inside”, Jacqueline Bonnet explained. So it is with a profound emotion that the great-great-great-grand-daughter of Nicéphore Niépce discovered the place where her ancestor conducted his researches and invented photography.
It’s magic to be here; one imagines Nicéphore Niépce at work. Everything is there. You’ve done an outstanding job”, she told the managers of the House of Niépce in Saint-Loup who have been fighting to see this place and Nicéphore Niépce’s work (as well as his brother’s, Claude) recognised.
It is actually in this respect that the visit from the inventor’s direct descendants takes its full significance. Just a few weeks before the Heritage Days 2008 (September 20th and 21st), during which the Maison Niépce will celebrate the bicentenary of the internal combustion engine that was invented by the Niépce brothers, this visit reminds one of the action undertook by Jacqueline Bonnet’s grandmother, Marie-Louise Laforge, in 1924.
Marie-Louise Laforge’s maiden name was Niépce. When she married Casimir Laforge, the name Niépce disappeared among the descendants of the inventor. “So all the people who are named Niépce and who pretend to be descendants of the photography’s inventor are impostors”, Madame Bonnet commented, smiling.
December 17th 1924: In the large amphitheater inside the hotel of the Society of French Civilian Engineers, Pierre Clerget, a famous airplane engines’ constructor, who built the first airplane diesel engine (1929), presented the pyreolophore to the members of the French Society of Air Navigation. He concluded by saying that the “first internal combustion engine ha[d] been conceived, built and experimented by the Niépce brothers.”
“It is not unlikely that in a more or less distant future, the principles of the direct reaction will be applied in air navigation. Indeed, this is probably how human beings can hope to travel one day at still unknown speeds in the extremely rarefied atmosphere or even in space. The rocket or the jet-propelled projectile that theoretically can work in empty space testify to this”, the Burgundian researcher explained at the time, in a visionary reflection.
The Niépce brothers’ engine used lycopodium powder as fuel and Clerget underlined: the brothers “are […] still the only ones to have shown us, through a machine that really functioned and proved to be useful, the direct use of a solid fuel in a cylinder engine. More than a century later, Diesel tried as well but failed.”
However, research on the Niépce brothers’ engine then stopped and their invention was slowly being forgotten… until these past years.
Jean-Louis Bruley, a Châlon-sur-Saône inhabitant holder of the agrégation in mechanics, has conceived a passion for the famous engine and hopes to succeed in making it work after having rebuilt it according to its inventors’ plans.
In 1924, Marie-Louise Laforge had paid homage to Clerget’s work and had thanked him for his “precious judgement and the interest he showed for her renowned relatives”. Eighty-four years later, Jacqueline Bonnet could also pay homage to the work realized by Jean-Louis Bruley, in her turn praising his “precious judgement”. He was the one leading the tour inside the House of Niépce. A glimpse into history two hundreds years after the Niépce brothers’ engine was invented…