There’s a neighbourhood in Paris called Belleville. It was from this small area that a marine engineer called Julien Belleville lived and worked. During the great Boiler Wars of the late 19th century, he managed to beat all comers to creating the perfect ship’s boiler.
Sadly, there is little easily obtainable information about Julien himself but his boilers were a great hit and, even today, continue to be used in ships around the world.
He (possibly) died in 1896 so, sadly, he never knew the outcome of the Boiler Committee of Great Britain that, eventually, decided to use his design in the Royal Navy fleet. The minutes of the Boiler Committee make ‘interesting’ reading. When quizzed by the government minister put in charge of it whether anyone on the committee had any expert knowledge of boilers, the spokesman for the committee had to answer in the negative, although, he said, one of the members of the committee had seen one.
The committee was made up of high ranking navy chaps, ship builders and other interested parties, none of them boiler makers. Even so, their investigations were fairly extensive (perhaps BECAUSE none of them knew boilers) and they presented the results of various boiler tests in various different vessels. Eventually they decided to go with the Belleville Boiler, a conclusion that the French and Russian navies had already reached.
In fact, the French steamship company, Messageries Maritime, jumped on Belleville’s boiler quite quickly, something he was around for. It made him a very wealthy Marine Engineer.
His big breakthrough came when he decided to try horizontal pipes when everyone else thought vertical was the only way. It worked a treat.
Alongside Julien was a chap called Louis Delaunay, also a marine engineer. He eventually became Julien’s son-in-law, marrying Belleville’s only child. Clearly, Julien didn’t want the great name of Belleville to die out so he insisted that, were Louis to marry his daughter, he’d have to change his name. Louis had no problem with this plan, particularly given he’d inherit the business after Julien’s death. Which he did.
There’s a big blank space during the early part of the 20th century but at some stage, Louis decided he’d rather make cars than marine boilers. And so, the Delaunay-Belleville Company of luxury automobiles was born. And it was very successful. Not only because Louis was an astute businessman but also because he took on Marius Barbarou who had a flair for finish. It was Marius who made the cars look so desirable.
Royalty from around the world wanted to be seen cruising the streets in one of their cars. They were handmade to a very high specification and suitably expensive. In their customer books were written such names as King Alphonso XIII of Spain, King George I of Greece and Czar Nicholas II of Russia.
Things went very well for the company until the late 1920’s. At this time, people weren’t really spending big money of luxury cars. Barbarou left the company and Delaunay-Belleville died. The car factory was taken over by one of those cheap little companies that somehow manage to sneak in when things are looking grim and make a huge success by undercutting everyone else…not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Anyway, suffice it to say, I researched the whole Belleville thing at work today. My favourite irony is that, at one time, all the big navies of the world were fitted with Belleville Boilers while happily trying to sink each other. This goes to show that, no matter the conflict or the combatants, the winner or the loser, Capitalism is always the victor.