The principal museum of technology in France dates from 1794, the time of the French Revolution, when a national conservatory of arts and trades (Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers) was created, which was conceived as a public repository for ‘machines, tools, models, drawings, descriptions and books relating to arts and trades of all kinds’. It opened in 1799 in the buildings of a priory dissolved during the Revolution.
In the course of the 19th century it acquired collections from several leading French scientists including Fernand Berthoud (1727-1807) and Anton Lavoisier (1743-94), together with archives and artefacts previously held by the Academie des Sciences, and exhibits from successive international exhibitions held in France. Until the 1880s the Conservatoire was involved with the patent system and acquired many models and drawings submitted by aspirant patentees.
The museum’s Industrial Portfolio includes more than 20,000 drawings and paintings of industrial subjects, including notable 18th century drawings by Jacques de Vaucanson (1709-82), the Grenoble-born inventor of automata. Selections from the museum’s collection of more than 80,000 artefacts are displayed in thematic rooms relating to such topics as clock-making, scientific instruments, materials science, communications, energy, transportation and photography. As a mark of respect to the museum in 1994, the year of its bicentenary, the designer Francois Schuiten transformed the nearby Metro station, Arts-et-Metiers into what appears to be a vast machine, principally by lining the walls of platforms and subways with copper sheets.