Albert de Dion

Albert de Dion

Marquis Jules Félix Philippe Albert de Dion (1856-1946) was a pioneer of the automobile industry in France.

His life

Scion of a leading French noble family and "a notorious duellist", [Wise, David Burgess, "De Dion: The Aristocrat and the Toymaker", in Ward, Ian, executive editor. "The World of Automobiles" (London: Orbis Publishing, 1974), Volume 5, p.510.] de Dion had a passion for mechanics. [Wise, p.510.] He had already built a model steam engine when, in 1881, he saw one in a store window and inquired about the toymakers, to build another. [Wise, p.510.]

The engineers, then making a starvation living on scientific toys [Wise, p.510.] at a shop in Léon, [Wise, p.510.] were Georges Bouton and his brother-in-law, Charles Trépardoux, [Georgano, G. N. "Cars: Early and Vintage, 1886-1930". (London: Grange-Universal, 1990), p.27.] who needed money for Trépardoux's long-time dream of a steam car. [Georgano, p.27.] De Dion, already inspired by steam (though in the form of rail locomotives) [Georgano, p.27.] and with plenty of money, [Georgano, p.24 cap.] agreed.

Before 1883 was over, they had formed a partnership (which became the de Dion-Bouton automobile company, world's largest automobile manufacturer for a time), tried and dropped marine steam engines, and produced a steam car. [Georgano, p.27.] Driving the front wheels by belts and steering with the rear, [Georgano, p.27.] it burned to the ground on trials. They built a second the next year, with a more conventional layout, capable of carrying four. [Georgano, p.27.]

"Comte" de Dion entered one in an 1887 trial, "Europe's first motoring competition", [Georgano, p.27.] the brainchild of one M. Fossier of cycling magazine "Le Vélocipède". [Georgano, p.27.] Evidently, the promotion was insufficient, for the de Dion was the sole entrant, [Georgano, p.27.] but it completed the course.

The "dead axle" named for him was actually invented by steam advocate Trépardoux, just before he resigned because the company was turning to internal combustion. [Wise, p.511.]

"Comte" de Dion also founded the Mondial de l'Automobile (Paris Motor Show) in 1898. He died in 1946, age 90. [Wise, p.514.]

Tour de France

De Dion had a row with Pierre Giffard, editor of the newspaper Le Vélo, over the guilt or innocence of Alfred Dreyfus, convicted of handing military secrets to the Germans. Giffard believed Dreyfus innocent and de Dion thought him guilty in a row whose passions split France. De Dion withdrew his advertising from Giffard's paper and started a rival, L'Auto.

Both papers depended on the cycle races they organized for publicity. In 1903 L'Auto ran the first Tour de France, a race so ambitious and which appealed to so many readers that Giffard had no answer. Le Vélo went out of circulation, Giffard joined L'Auto and the Tour de France continues.



* Georgano, G. N. "Cars: Early and Vintage, 1886-1930". London: Grange-Universal, 1990 (reprints AB Nordbok 1985 edition).
* Wise, David Burgess, "De Dion: The Aristocrat and the Toymaker", in Ward, Ian, executive editor. "The World of Automobiles" (London: Orbis Publishing, 1974), Volume 5, p.510-4.

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