Ernest Goüin (1815–85)

Ernest Goüin was one of the civil and mechanical engineers in France responsible for great infrastructure projects. He created the engineering firm Batignolles which built railways and bridges in many parts of Europe and Africa.

He was born at Tours in central France to a prosperous commercial family. He studied in Paris at the École Polytechnique and the famous École nationale des ponts et chaussées, which was established by the French state to train engineers and develop the national infrastructure. At the end of his studies he went to England to examine railway engineering and machine tool manufacture. In 1839 he was asked to remain in England to oversee the building of locomotives for the 114-km Paris to Orleans railway at Sharp, Roberts and Company in Manchester. For the next six years he managed workshops for the Saint Germain railway in Paris, which had opened in 1837 as the first steam-driven railway in France.

By 1846 Goüin had the standing and experience to create his own engineering company. With financial backing from the banker James de Rothschild he opened an engine works in his own name, Ernest Goüin and Company, at Batignolles in Paris. It began by making locomotives for the Chemin de Fer du Nord. In the economic depression of the 1840s it diversified into the manufacture of iron bridges and then into shipbuilding at Nantes on the west coast. The foundry in Batignolles produced bridges in iron and later in steel for sites in France, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia and French colonial North Africa. Many were major constructions, for example the 160-m Asnières bridge over the Seine and Margit bridge over the Danube at Budapest. From 1862 the company designed and constructed railways in France and in countries including Spain, Italy, Russia, Poland, Algeria and Senegal. In 1871 it became a joint-stock company with enlarged capital by the name of Société de Construction des Batignolles.

Goüin was an influential figure: a president of the Paris chamber of commerce and a director of the Banque de France. After his death, his son Jules was chairman of the company.