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Mining and Metallurgy Gallery - Expo Paris 1889

Mining and Metallurgy Gallery at the Exhibition Expo Paris 1889


The last of the monumental entrances on the left side of the thirty-metre gallery is the one that opens onto the collective exhibition of the Loire metallurgical factories (class 41).

It is a fitting tribute to the iron industry, which is one of the leading industries in France. The names of Firminy, Montbrison and Rive-de-Gier are famous throughout the world.

The facade is reminiscent of the one opposite it, without copying it in any way. But while locksmithing and ironwork, to which the opposite façade is dedicated, are the industries of peace, the factories of the Loire wanted to remind us of the important role they play in our national defence, and it is cannons that serve as columns to divide the façade into three bays. Here, the façade has not been entirely covered with metal, but is made of stone in large units, with a very successful appearance of a factory gate. The ore blocks are placed at the foot of this façade, whose cornice, somewhat military for a factory, is decorated with lion heads, very fortunately completed by the addition of strong metal rings that the animals hold in their mouths.

Golden Book of the Exhibition - Henry Anry.


It was hardly necessary to make a separate class of what constitutes, under the title of products of mining and metallurgy, class 41. Indeed, metallurgy is everywhere at the Exhibition. The whole Exhibition is itself a great pandemonium of metal. From the 300-metre tower to the light dismantled constructions on the Quai d'Orsay, metal is everywhere. It provided all the frameworks, the dizzying trusses, the arches of a hitherto unknown span, it even provided the walls; such are, for example, the corrugated panels of the Folies Parisiennes theatre, or the embossed panels which form the superb covering of the Mexican râlais.

The Exposition was the great feast of metal, a feast very characteristic of this age, ours, whose genius - and this is not a mockery - is synthesized in the Galerie des Machines, just as the genius of the Middle Ages was synthesized in Notre-Dame, the Gothic.

This has not prevented metal from taking up a considerable place in the Palais des Expositions diverses. Its exhibition is, with that of Furniture, the one that occupies the largest surface and it is the only one that has two monumental entrances, opposite each other, in the Thirty Meter Gallery. It is true that no other industry has such an extensive repertoire, if I may say so.

It is of this repertoire that we will give a quick overview.

Before being metal, all metal is ore; this truth of La Palisse is stated here only to put us in relation with the various products of extraction from the mines, which form the basis of the metallurgical exhibition. One does not have an idea of the quantity of mines that exist on French soil. In one century alone, I believe, 1,200 mining concessions have been granted, supplying either coal or iron ore, without counting the quarries exploited in the open air without a concession, without counting, either, the mines which are not very productive, it is true, of copper, zinc, lead, etc. We do not extract any of the precious metals from the national soil, at least in a truly industrial way. For we goldpick, that is to say, we read gold flakes from some of our rivers, and the processing of our rare lead ores can provide infinitesimal quantities of silver. But it is of little importance for a country to produce gold. This neither explains nor indicates the development of its absolute wealth, nor even the development of its metallic wealth.

The gold-producing countries of South America are in the grip of eternal currency crises, and in Buenos Aires, for example, you have to pay forty-two or forty-three francs in paper for a gibus hat, which they are only too happy to let you take away in exchange for a nice twenty-franc gold coin.

A kilogram of steel made into watch springs is a far more valuable metal than a kilogram of silver, and yet steel is only a "vile metal".

Sulphur and salt are also two products of the mining industry, which are as good as precious ores. What will become of the earth if the salt loses its strength? And today, nineteen centuries later, the question does not seem to be more easily resolved: salt is a necessity for civilised man; - there are savages who do without it perfectly: but the hell if I know why it is necessary for us. In well-made bread one must not taste any salt. Well, eat bread that is not salty at all, and you will see if it does not seem to you one of the most atrocious things that it is possible to swallow.

As for sulphur, it is the salt of modern industry. The two characteristic factors of a country's industrial activity are its consumption of soda and especially its consumption of sulphuric acid. By consumption I do not mean the consumption of sulphuric acid by abandoned young people who vitriolise their seducer, as this custom, although enshrined in the jurisprudence of several courts of assizes, cannot really be considered an industrial use.

We have no more precious stones than we have precious metals. But we have, in quantity, the first precious stone in the world, coal. If sulphur is the salt of industry, coal is its daily bread, a bread which is devoured every day by thousands of pantagruelian mouths, digested by monstrous stomachs and which, through thousands of arteries, spreads like a generous blood throughout the country.

Coal, the great coal, the fairy of modern miracles, is certainly of a different social importance than its brother the diamond, which, were it not for human coquetry, would only be used for cutting windows and for a few industrial purposes. We see here the whole black family, lignite, anthracite, coal proper, what we commonly call earth coal. Next to this we see some of the by-products of this coal, which is the most fertile of raw materials, since, as has already been detailed here, it can today supply colours, perfumes, oils, acids, fats, pharmaceutical products, sugar, not to mention the tar itself from which all this comes, and the lighting gas which is obtained on top of it. Even the smallest fragments of coal, the impalpable dusts, are used in the form of agglomerates for industrial purposes and briquettes for domestic use.

Mining products also include asphalt, asphalt rock, various naphtha, and finally petroleum, which has more or less completely replaced oil in lighting, and which is tending to replace coal as an industrial fuel.

Clays have their proper use as pottery clay, next to the services they also render in the composition of refractory products, but they still offer other resources. When the new processes are fully developed from the laboratory to the production plant, clay will provide the metal of the future, aluminium, whose use is still restricted because of its high price, but which will soon fall to infinitely lower levels, since it is, it seems, the most widespread of all metals.

In principle, building stones are of little interest. Limestone has nothing exciting about it, but there is one that is nevertheless precious: marble. We have marbles in France which are as good as the most renowned foreign marbles, and Carrara has only to behave well in front of the superb blocks sent by the Ossau valley.

To finish this enumeration of what we are shown here coming from the "entrails of the globes", there remain the various ores which become iron, copper, lead, etc.

The exhibition of these metals includes, as can be imagined, some important pieces. Modern metallurgy knows no limits. It melts and hammers a block of metal weighing one hundred thousand kilograms. It would melt one of a hundred thousand tons, if it were necessary. It has rolling mills that level out pieces as thick as 1.8 centimetres, and power hammers that crush masses of steel as big as an elephant. It forges armour plates as thick as walls and of indefinite length.

All these pieces form astonishing trophies, which seem to adorn a workshop of Titans. What levers can lift these masses, what lathes can complete the sizing, what giant gimlets can pierce the full length of these formidable pieces of steel? Go to the Galerie des Machines and you will see these marvellous tools in action, massive as monuments and gentle as children, combining, according to the beautiful verse of Victor de Laprade,
Two divine attributes, gentleness in strength.

Several of these tools are also on display in class 41, but they are at rest. And with good reason, for many of them are only wooden facsimiles, like some enormous pieces of metal, which would have required special foundations so as not to break up the ground on which they would have rested.

On the obelisk in the Place de la Concorde, the various phases of the monument's erection were traced. Today, we have artillery pieces heavier than the obelisk, and some men handle them with their fingers. Some cranes - no pun intended - would move the pyramid of Cheops in one piece...

The only criticism of this part of the metallurgical exhibition is that it is too full of shells and cannons. We know that the cannon is both Yultima ratio and the last word in modern life, but what the hell, we have seen enough of them at the War Ministry, and a peace festival does not need so many projectiles, even if they are of the last perfection. The guns bring with them the armour plates, and the torpedo tubes call for a natural procession of nets to keep the torpedo boats away. For what centenary will mankind make locomotive casings from armour plates and ploughshares from gun breeches?

Cast iron is just the thing to relax those who, like yours truly, are a little twitchy from warlike displays. The field of cast iron is expanding every day, and the 1889 Exhibition will mark an important stage in its conquest of the building industry. It was no longer limited to providing statues, basins, railings, balconies and candelabras. On the facades of the palaces of the Champ de Mars, it tackled the decoration proper and formed, as at the entrance to the central Dome, superb porticoes.

Nevertheless, cast iron has been beaten in advance wherever it has tackled the art of locksmithing. If we do not have the patience to spend an entire worker's life completing a door hinge, as was done in the Middle Ages, our locksmiths can nevertheless do very artistic things, as shown by this delightful columned portico which cuts the bay in two. It is not the only one, for no class is as rich as this one in porticoes. There is another, a sort of door formed of Mansard roofs, which is made entirely of zinc; there are others of copper... under which one does not pass, and which are simple trophies, but trophies that are worth examining. Some are made up of enormous pipes of a considerable diameter, 40 or 50 centimetres, with a thickness of 10 millimetres, over a length of 10 metres, and which are drawn in one piece, that is to say without any welding. Similarly, copper domes as large as cathedral bells are not melted down but pressed, i.e. pushed by the action of a hydraulic press onto a copper plate. Given that these plates are sometimes two or three centimetres thick and that the depth of the stamping is up to two metres, one can see what force must have been necessary.
The most successful of these trophies is certainly that of the Letrange house, reproduced in our engraving, and in the execution of which M. Lequeux has displayed an architectural verve of the best taste.

After having seen these infinitely large trophies, one must see, but quickly, because this study is already quite long, the infinitely small ones, the fine metal threads as fine as the finest silk threads; the needles, the pins. The contrast is quite interesting. It is a similar operation, all things considered, to hammer a steel plate under a sledgehammer, or to thin a sheet of gold with the mallet of a beater. We know how far the perfection of this work, however ancient, goes. A twenty-franc coin can provide surfaces of gold leaf such that a reasonable house could be covered with it, or very nearly so. As for stretching this gold coin into a thread, it is even more astonishing: kilometres of it are produced.

Other, stronger wires are those used to make wire ropes - ropes of vegetable matter are generally round, metal ropes are flat and have the advantage that their strength can be calculated very closely and their breaking point determined.

A final detail. The strongest wire rope ever made is the one that operates the first part of the Edoux lift between the second platform of the Eiffel Tower and the intermediate floor.

©Livre d'Or de l'Exposition - Paul Le Jeinisel.