If you don't live in France, you cannot imagine how many technologies we, French people, have invented in the last two centuries. Or claim we have invented.

The French invented airplanes.
In French schools, we learn that the first airplane was built by a French engineer named Clément Ader in 1890. He even invented the french word for 'airplane' ('avion', from the Latin 'avis'). Then we learn that the Wright Brothers enhanced Ader's invention.

The real thing is that it depends on what you call an airplane. Ader's machine could only fly (you may say jump) on a few dozen meters, and it could not really be controlled because of its steam engine. Make your own opinion, but my guess is that the evolution of airplanes benefitted more from the Wright Bros than from Mr. Ader.

The French invented cinema
This time, the brothers are on the French side. Auguste and Louis Lumière allegedly invented the cinema in 1895. Again, it depends on what you call cinema. Thomas Edison may have invented the first filming machines, but the Lumière brothers invented the projector and public screenings. Make your own opinion, but I think movies look better on a large screen than in Edison's individual viewer.

The French invented photography.
Photography was invented by Nicéphore Niepce and Louis Daguerre. Nobody in France will have any doubt about this fact. Even I had no doubt until I made some research on the Web.

In the English-speaking world, William Henry Fox Talbot is sometimes seen as the inventor of photography. He invented photography on paper, and published his invention a few months before Daguerre in 1839, but Niepce had made the first photographs long before, in 1827. Make your own opinion.

The French invented cars.
In high school, French pupils learn that the first thing that looked more or less like a car was the Cugnot Carriage, an ugly steam-powered machine built by Nicolas Cugnot in 1769. They do not hear very much about German inventors Karl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler, who both patented their internal combustion engine cars in 1886. They hear more about Panhard and Levassor, or Citroën and Renault, who came later. Another French inventor is Etienne Lenoir, who built an automobile that worked with oil in the 1860s or 1870s.

The Americans have a candidate: Henry Ford. Actually he invented affordable cars (Ford Model T), and the American car industry.

The French invented micro-computers.
Not one, but two Frenchmen say they invented the first micro-computer. A few years ago, André Truong said on television that he had invented the first micro-computer in 1973; even the Wall Street Journal talked about him. Then François Gernelle, a former employee of Truong, claimed he was the real inventor. Gernelle sued Truong, and he won. The machine was called Micral, and it was a commercial failure, as most French inventions when the government does not provides strong support.

Of course, the Americans also pretend they have invented micro-computers. After all, they have invented most of the technology inside the computer. Ken Polsson's very thorough chronology of micro-computing (1) doesn't even mention the names of Truong and Gernelle, and nobody has noded them in E2 at the time of this writing. Non-French inventors or contributors are Steve Wozniak, the Mits company (Altair 8800) and many others.

So where is the truth? Apparently Micral was the first micro-computer commercialized as a finished product, while others were only sold as a kit. My opinion is that of course the American inventors deserve most of the credit.

The French invented smart cards.
Roland Moreno, a former journalist, invented payment cards with an embedded microchip in 1974, and everybody has been using them in France since the 80s.

Although Moreno is usually considered as the inventor, there are a few other candidates from Germany, Japan, and, of course, the United States (2).

The French invented the Web.
No, nobody really claims such a thing. With the Minitel, however, the French telecom company probably invented the first very popular online, interactive service. Minitel had millions of users in the 80s. The only problem with Minitel is that it still exists.


References:
(1) http://www.islandnet.com/~kpolsson/comphist/
(2) alt.technology.smartcards FAQ: http://www.scdk.com/atsfaq.htm

Thanks to Uberfetus for a precision on Clément Ader's machine.

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