Philippe de Girard (1775–1845)

Philippe de Girard is one of the most outstanding 19th century scientists and inventors. He was born on 1st February 1775 in France in a town of Lourmarin. He studied medicine in Montpellier and then, chemical and natural sciences in Marseille. The inventor’s career began from the construction of an electrical capacitor (1791). Another invention of his is a turbine propelled by sea waves. In 1810 Napoleon Bonaparte issued a decree that stipulated a reward of one million francs for inventing a flax spinning machine. Philippe de Girard entered the competition and after a month he registered his patent. Girard constructed a trial version of a spinner with twelve spindles. Before the end of the competition, he presented the entire spinning mill.

In 1815, Philippe de Girard moved to Austria. He established a spinning machine factory in Hirtenberg, near Vienna, and a spinning mill in Pottendorf. The factory supplied new machines to spinning mills in Czech Republic, Moravia and Saxony. It was there that he constructed the first heckling comb and in 1818 he finished his work on carding machine. In Hirtenberg, Girard also worked on hydraulics. He constructed automatic gates for the purposes of protecting the factory against water flow and after that, he returned to designing a steam machine by constructing tube boilers (with tubes filled with water and surrounded by flames). Girard’s boiler was used in 1818 on the first steam ship on the Danube River.

Inventions of de Girard were quickly recognized in the Kingdom of Poland. On 13th July 1825 an agreement was signed with Girard for establishment of a flax spinning mill based on the example of a factory in Hirtenberg. On 1st August 1825 Philippe de Girard was appointed by the Minister of Treasury of the Kingdom of Poland, Prince Drucki-Lubecki to the position of Chief Mechanic at the Mining Department of the Government. His task was to install mechanic appliances in mines and steelworks, and improve the existing ones. He modernized, among others, mechanical factories in Białogon, Samsonów, Sielpa and zinc works “Ksawery” near Będzin. In the meantime, in Warsaw, the Flax Products Association was established on 24th June 1829 with a view to popularizing the Girard’s invention (mechanical flax treatment). In 1829 experimental production in Marymont near Warsaw was launched. The experiment was aim at training the staff and improving the machines.

On 1st March 1830 the Government Commission for Internal Affairs concluded with the Flax Products Association an agreement for construction of a large mechanical spinning mill with 2200 spindles in the territory of Guzów. The founding act of the Flax Mill Factory in Żyrardów was drawn up on 9th August 1830. The Żyrardów Factory made use of the heckling machine invented also by Girard, which was later improved and re-patented in 1832. In 1833 the factory opened and Philippe de Girard became its first technical director. His inventions and technical concepts spurred the construction of a large flax factory in Żyrardów. To honor the inventor’s accomplishments, the new settlement was called "Żyrardów". Till the end of his stay in the Kingdom of Poland, Girard remained a technical advisor in industrial undertakings of the Bank of Poland for Count Henryk Łubieński (sugar factory in Guzów), Gen. Count Ludwik Paca (installation of two turbines as the drive of the “water thresher”), Piotr Steinkeller (metal plant in Żarki).

In 1844 Girard returned to France. He presented all of his inventions at an exhibition in Paris for which he was awarded with a gold medal. Philippe de Girard died on 26th August 1845. He was buried at the family tomb in Lourmarin.