Ordinary and Extraordinary Journeys


“The railroad has become a necessity for everyone now, and of every day. Whether it is for business or for pleasure, we spend long hours in the railroad.”
Giffard, Henri, La vie en chemin de fer (Life on the Railroad), 1888, p. VI

Cover of La Navigation sous-marine (Underwater Navigation), G. L. Pesce, 1906. scpt_124

Poster for the Panorama of the Compagnie générale transatlantique at the 1889 World’s Fair, Jules Chéret, [1889].

The transportation revolution that took place during the 19th century offers one of the best illustrations of how science was disseminated to the general public.

Not a decade went by without a new invention that radically changed how people traveled, by land or by sea.

Poster for Papillon bicycles, A. Bonnard, circa 1890.

Gigantic bicycle and miniature bicycle, in La Nature (Nature), April 28, 1900.

While the French were slow to adopt the railroad, the attraction was more immediate for individual means of locomotion like the bicycle and the automobile.

Inventions and improvements were coming one after another, and by the year 1900, more than 90,000 Parisians owned bicycles.

Poster for Dion-Bouton automobiles, Wilhio.

L'invention de l'automobile

Photograph of the “Jamais contente” (“Never Satisfied”) race car, Mondial Agency, 1932.

Les Champs-Elysées, le 2 juillet 1896. @ Institut Lumière

As for automobiles, despite their imperfect technology and frequent breakdowns, they caught on slowly but surely. The first automobile show was held in Paris in 1898.

Just a year later, the Dion-Bouton “motorette,” which could carry up to three people, was a huge success. A symbol of modern technology, automobile racing was soon recognized as a sport.

Poster for steam-driven public transportation: the “Train Scotte”, Henri Gray, [1897].

The electric-railroad display at the 1900 World’s Fair, in La Nature (Nature), June 9, 1900.

Visiteurs circulant sur la plate-forme mobile installée lors de l’Exposition universelle de 1900. @ Institut Lumière

As early as 1903, a member of the Paris municipal council had no qualms about writing, in a report on mobility in the French capital, “automobiles reign supreme.” At the time, there were approximately 3,000 automobiles in all of France.

Various improvements in public-transportation services in cities were also modifying the urban landscape.

Paris Metro tunnels and stations, in La Nature (Nature), June 3, 1899.

Construction worker building the Metro in Paris, in L'Exposition de Paris (1900) (The Paris Expo (1900)), [1898-1900].

Horse-drawn streetcars or trams lasted for a few decades, but the horses were gradually replaced, first by steam, then electricity, which brought other changes. The concept of a right to transportation for all led to the creation of the Paris metro,

following the lead of the London underground, for which construction had begun in 1860. After great debate, the first line finally opened in 1900.

Invitation for the inauguration of the railroad line in Nantes, 1851.


Engraving celebrating the inauguration of the railroad line in Reims, 1854.