Louis Vicat, inventor of artificial cement
Louis Vicat's great discovery
"He revealed the causes, established the rules, and then ... created art." (Louis Vicat, as described by Baron Thénard, French chemist)
Louis Vicat's drawing of Souillac Bridge
After graduating from the prestigious École Polytechnique, and receiving an advanced engineering degree from the École nationale des ponts et chaussées (the "National School of Bridges and Roads," France's oldest civil engineering school, founded in 1747), Louis Vicat received a commission in 1812 to build a bridge over the Dordogne River. The job was complicated by the exceptionally rough waters of the Dordogne and its unstable riverbed. But, after careful experimentation, Louis Vicat discovered a material that would enable him to create a low-cost and solid bridge. By mixing powdered lime with clay, he created an artificial cement that would set after being submerged in water for a several days.
Barely 32 years old, Louis Vicat presented his work to the Academy of Sciences in 1818, which officially validated the soundness of his artificial cement discovery. The Souillac Bridge over the Dordogne River was successfully completed in 1822, and was the first bridge to be built using artificial cement.
Almost 200 years later, Louis Vicat's discovery is the foundation that the modern cement industry is built upon.
A universal gift
"What shall Vicat's recompense be ... he who has alone achieved real progress in the practical science of construction?" Balzac, Le curé de village, 1839
Louis Vicat, who "preferred that fame and glory serve a useful purpose instead of making him wealthy," according to Baron Thénard, chose to give the world the benefits of his research without expecting financial gains. Accordingly, he did not file a patent for his artificial cement invention. This enabled Joseph Aspdin, a British entrepreneur, to file a patent for a product based on the manufacturing method created by Vicat in 1818; Aspin later named his commercial product "Portland Cement."
Milestones in the life of Louis Vicat
March 31, 1786: Birth of Louis-Joseph Vicat in Nevers
1804: Louis Vicat enrolls at the Polytechnique and then at the Bridges and Roads Faculty
1812-1822: Louis Vicat builds the Souillac Bridge over the Dordogne
1817: Louis Vicat discovers artificial cement.
1818: Louis Vicat's discovery is identified by France's Academy of Sciences.
1845: A national award of 6,000 Francs is granted to Louis Vicat by the Government. The engineer offers his invention to the world without filing for a patent, and his peers believe they owe him a debt of gratitude.
January 11, 1853: Louis Vicat is appointed honorary Inspector General of Bridges and Roads. In the same year, his son, Joseph Vicat, establishes the Vicat Cement Company.
1855: Louis Vicat and his son build a bridge in Grenoble's Plant Garden, the world's first construction made of poured concrete.
April 10, 1861: Death of Louis Vicat in Grenoble.
The Vicat needle
Louis Vicat's letter
Souillac Bridge (Vallée de la Dordogne, Lot, France)