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French Inventions

Many people use objects and have no idea where they were from or how they were invented. Sometimes it doesn’t even occur to you when you use the item where it came from. Many of the items used today were invented in Francophone countries.


Modern Stethoscope

The stethoscope is a tool used by doctors to listen to the heart and lungs. It was invented by Rene Theophile Hyacinthe Laënnec, a French physician. In 1816 it was inspired by two children using a piece of wood and a pin to send signals to each other. Laënne used this knowledge when he had a patient that had signs of a diseased heart. He didn't want to do what was known as immediate auscultation (which is the act of putting one's ear to a patient's chest) because of the age and gender of the patient. So he rolled a paper tightly and put it over the patient's chest, allowing him to hear her heart more clearly than ever before. He later stated, “I immediately saw that this might become an indispensable method for studying, not only the beating of the heart, but all movements able of producing sound in the chest cavity.” After this discovery, he started testing to see what materials worked best. This testing lasted for three years until he found that a piece of hollow wood with a diameter of 3.5cm and a length of 25cm worked best. This is how the stethoscope came to be.


The invention of braille has helped hundreds of millions of blind or visually impaired individuals to be able to read. A veteran of Napoleon Bonaparte’s army in the 1800’s created a system of communication known then as “night writing”. This brilliant man was Charles Barbier, and he originally made this night writing because he had seen many people die in battle since they used light to transmit and read messages.

Louis Braille

However, it was Louis Braille who truly made the language of Braille. He lost his sight at a young age, and he discovered Charles’ night writing, and he modified it to make it more accessible. Originally, Charles' system was a box of 2 bumps by 12 bumps raised so that you could feel it, however Louis thought this was too complicated so he made it 2 by 6. This simplified the language, and few changes have been made since Braille's invention of this system. This language would be named after Louis Braille and would eventually find its way worldwide, becoming the

international written language for the blind and visually impaired. 


Even though it hasn't been used since 1977, the invention of the guillotine was a major part of French history. The guillotine was invented in France in 1792, during the French Revolution. The inventor of the guillotine was a French surgeon and physiologist named Antoine Louis. However, the guillotine was named after the member of the National Assembly that was a key part in passing the law that required all corporal punishment to be carried out by the guillotine. This member of the National Assembly was named Joseph-Ignace Guillotin. It later became the symbol for the era known as the Reign of Terror and it ended up executing thousands of people, most famously Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. The guillotine continued to be used until the 20th century and stopped being used in between the 60’s and 70’s. The guillotine consisted of two beams standing up with a crossbeam connecting the two, with a trapezoidal blade which would fall from the top guided by the grooves within the beams. The blade was heavily weighted to make it fall faster for a clean decapitation of the prone person under it. 

To conclude, the origins of some items are very interesting and mysterious. However, the only way to learn more about where things come from is to ask questions: “how did this come to be?” There will always be more to know and learn when researching the origins of objects.

Written by Léon Seavey, High School Intern

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