MMIM Hall of Fame

Edouard Delamare-Deboutteville

   For decades we have all been told that the first automobile was built by Karl Benz, closely followed by Gottlieb Daimler. The French however, have long contested that the first automobile was made in France, and that the later Panhards and Peugeots were the first real production cars too.

   All this ignores the contributions of earlier motorised vehicles from de Rivaz 1828 in Switzerland, Lenoir 1860-63 in France and Marcus 1864-70 in Austria. All three of these gentlemen produced a chassis, of sorts, that was moved by an internal combustion engine carried within that vehicle. So where does Delamare-Deboutteville fit into all this, and who should we really credit with producing the first real automobile?

   Édouard Napoleon François Delamare-Deboutteville was born in Rouen on the 8th of February, 1856, the 6th and last child of François Vendémiaire Delamare and Lucille Elie Audibert of Boutteville. 

   The marriage of François and Lucille on the 19th of July 1834 in Fontaine-le-Bourg united two prominent local families from somewhat different backgrounds. The aristocratic family, Audibert of Boutteville, were more commonly found as officers in the French army and as sailors. They supported Joseph-François, Marquis Dupleix, Governor-General of French India and transported goods in their own ship. The family developed a great knowledge of Indian commerce and ways Indian women manufactured such fine fabrics as well as in the textile industry in general. They lands and an interest in industrialisation and improving their spinning mills by use of water power.

   The Delamare family of Darnétal, near Rouen, could trace their history back into the middle ages and for years had been master drapers of great repute.

   The Delamare-Deboutteville family became well known Norman industrialists holding a distinguished place in society within the Seine-Inferieure, especially in the areas around Rouen and Fontaine-le-Bourg were they lived. Fontaine-le-Bourg was a small village on the banks of the Cailly River, the local people were farmers and light industry was developing around that and spinning mills powered by water. 

   Rising to prominence through war and enterprise the two families’ unification brought each other great prestige. Highly influenced by the industrial and technical progress in England, as well as English architecture, they now controlled five spinning mills, draperies, ships and even coal mines in the South of France, putting them in a commanding business position for the future.

   These ideas were not just intended to benefit the immediate family. As they built more mills and industrial buildings to generate more income they also built workers' housing, houses for the foremen, canteens, power stations and more for the local community. It was as if they were creating their own French Manchester in the Normandy region.

   It is clear in hindsight that the qualities of both families contributed to the life of Édouard; the adventurous curiosity of the Bouttevilles as well as the stability and working ethos of the Delamares.

   Édouard had three brothers and two sisters the eldest brother, François Elie Delamare-Deboutteville, was 21 years older than he was and we can only wonder at the nature of their relationship. It must have been reasonably amicably as when François succeeds his father as head of the family in 1881 he does not seem to have curbed his little brother industrious inclinations in any way.

   As a child Édouard Delamare-Deboutteville is idealistic and passionate, but prone to spend his time pondering things, or day-dreaming, rather than working. It becomes clear he is a good mathematician and is fascinated by all the mechanical things around him. He developed a passion for mechanics and studied at the de Rouen”. He was initially driven to improve the machines his family had in their spinning mills but as is skills and knowledge grew it became obvious this brilliant engineer was becoming a genius inventor. What he didn’t poses was his eldest brothers business acumen and this would later be a financial issue for him and, one assumes, the family.

   Like all young men his eye was taken by a young lady only this young lady, just 2 years his junior, was also his niece. Julie-Lucile was the daughter of Édouard's eldest brother, François-Elie, and one might think there was some difficult decisions to be made amongst the family members as the relationship of Julie-Lucile and Édouard became serious. Whatever transpired the couple were given Papal dispensation and married in Fontaine-le-Bourg on the 3rd of August 1878. The happy couple were to have five children and apparently live quite happily.

   Édouard graduated from the "Ecole Supérieur de Commerce et d'Industrie” in 1879 and started to follow his industrial engineering path. Initially Édouard worked on modernising and improving the family company’s machines, and was highly proficient at this task, but in doing so he saw other applications for his ideas. Interest in the 1862 four-stroke cycle engine developed by Alphonse-Eugène Beau de Rochas took hold of Édouard and, seeing the distance of the plant from the railway head, he started to wonder about mechanical transportation to speed up delivery of goods and ease the loads on the staff and animals.

   Delamare-Deboutteville studied the works of Lenoir and Otto too, in 1881 he built his first four-stroke internal combustion engine. This led to him eventually inventing one of the first gas engine tricycles have run on the road. This machine used an engine powered by lighting gas, something readily available in the area as the Delamare-Deboutteville family installed gas lighting in the area. In time these experiments in engines would lead to some of the largest, and most powerful, engines the world had seen being built and win him great notoriety and many awards.

   However, Édouard Delamare-Deboutteville was far more than just an engineer. He is reported as being a “charming speaker”, a “thinker” and a “learned scholar". Fluent in several languages he travelled widely and investigated the origins of civilisations, included beliefs and the occult alongside philosophy and the sciences. Édouard did more than just learn about these things though. He produced three volumes of Sanskrit grammar and a French-Sanskrit dictionary; this with the help of his friend Hardjji Schariph (an enigmatic Hindu who was a regular visitor to Montgrimont, intriguing the population of the village with his oriental clothes and turban). Édouard Delamare-Deboutteville was also a lover of nature. He amassed a large collection of birds, such ornithology was later donated to the Museum of Natural History of Rouen, Wrote papers on the cultivation of mussels and established oyster farms in Carantec in the Bay of Morlaix and in the Aber Benoet, a coastal river of the Pays de Léon, North-West of Finistère, in Brittany. 

Motor “cart” development 

   The experiments with the powered tricycle early in 1883 prompted Delamare-Deboutteville to start looking into something more substantial and, with the help of Léon Paul Charles Maladin (1849-1912), and the workers of the Montgrimont spinning mill, converted an old hunting carriage to a motor car by adding an 8hp two-cylinder internal combustion engine. It was by far the most revolutionary vehicle of 1883 and in fairness problems were to be expected. On the new vehicle’s first trial the gas pipe split and the lighting gas escaped. Thus, it was converted to run on a liquid fuel requiring the invention of a wick carburettor to create a fuel/air mixture. This version of the engine was more successful and further trials were instigated.

   Early in the February of 1884 the two men and some helpers ran the car on the road from Fontaine-le-Bourg to Cailly, one can only imagine the buzz of excitement they felt, and the shock and wonder of those who saw the machine rolling along without a horse to pull it. The Seine-Infrieure region of Normandy must have been awash with rumours and speculation about the mechanical cart yet there seems to have been little written about it, even the French forgot about this amazing achievement for almost a century. Delamar-Deboutville and Malandin’s machine must have been considered reasonably successful as they registered this design under patent number 160267 on the 12th of February 1884. The patent was issued two days later on the 14th of February 1884.

The vehicle   

   As we eluded to the vehicle was basically a horse carriage without horses. It was 2750mm long, 1650mm wide and 2050mm high, had four wooden wheels with the usual leaf spring suspension, a front bench seat for the driver and crew and two bench seats longitudinally mounted along the sides of the rear platform within the wooden body.

   The important part was the internal combustion engine, a twin cylinder four-stroke engine of 8128 cm3. That is two 4,064cc cylinders horizontally mounted under the rear platform. The liquid Petroleum carbide was drawn in by suction valve from the wick carburetor. Electric ignition via a simple distributor ignited the mixture in the cylinder. Cooling appears to have been by air as over large fins are found on the cylinder casings. Power output is estimated to have been around 8hp at 250 rpm. 

   This power was fed through a clutch and transmitted by prop’ shaft to a differential which then rotated driving axles with toothed cogs. These in turn pulled chains which rotated the cogs on the rear wheels.

   Capable of speeds up to 10kph the machine is very impressive for the time. Although much the same route Daimler took as a motorized carriage it does carry several innovative features. The original vehicle was put into storage and its fate became lost over time, it is known it was not sold. There is little evidence to say how many of the vehicles were built, if any more than the one.


   In 1984 the story of Eduoad Delamare-Deboutteville et Leon Malandin was rescued from oblivion when the 1884 patent was reviewed, Jacques Rousseau and Georges Ageon of the "Chambre Syndicale des constructeurs" found it particularly interesting. These passionate gentlemen drove a plan to build an exact replica from the patent plans, not an easy task to undertake. The "Compagnons du Devoir du Tour de France" helped with the building of the vehicle working hard to ensure it was as faithful as possible to the original. The body work, upholstery, the chassis design, the suspension and such could be fairly easily developed with horse carriage restorers but the engine and mechanical parts were much more of a problem to work out. The "Société Le Moteur Moderne" was commissioned to build the motor with assistance from Valeo and Ducellier for the clutch and the electrical parts.

   When everything was built the vehicle was painted green with red wheels and presented to the Delamare-Deboutteville descendants, the grandson of the inventor, Serge Delamare-Debouteville, was even able drive the vehicle around for a while too. "Monnaie de Paris" minted a commemorative medal for the event.

   This vehicle now resides in the Cité de l'Automobile, formerly known as the Schlumpf Collection, and is made available for other historic museums and events.

   Another replica, painted in black and red, is on show at the Renault museum and is also made available for all kinds of different events.

Achievements and recognition   

   Édouard Delamare-Deboutteville obtained over 70 patents in France, Britain the USA and around the world. He was presented with three honorary degrees, and the President of the French Republic, Felix Faure had him appointed Officer of the Legion d’Honor in 1896. He also enjoyed the Chicago Award for gas engines, perhaps of most value were the seven gold medals awarded for his mechanical designs.

   Delamare-Deboutteville was also awarded a Silver Medal at the Frankfurt Exhibition in 1881 for his "Universal Machine" and a bronze medal at the Rouen Exposition in 1884 for his work with John Cockerill of Seraing (Belgium) on his gas fuelled "Simplex Motors".

   At the Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1889 a 100 horsepower, single-cylinder, gas- powered engine also developed with "Simplex" earned Delamare-Deboutteville a gold medal. This design allowed greater power than ever before to be extracted from a gas engine and showed they could create equal power to the most sophisticated steam engine for 10 times less weight of coal.

   While most of Édouard’s patents were related to textiles here is one from the USA for Édouard Delamare-Deboutteville and Leon Malandin’s “apparatus for carburetting air”, Granted on the 5th of October 1886 Patent No. 407,998,. With the following dates for :-

                                       France     June 29,1886,             No.174,641

                                       England   July 26, 1886,              Ito. 9,598,3161

                                       Germany  November 4, 1886,     Ito. 37,550.

   In 1895, Delamare-Deboutteville sent a 4hp engine to John Cockerill who modified to produce 8 HP. By 1898 Cockerill could produce 200hp from a single-cylinder engine, In 1899 the design had become a 158-ton, one-cylinder blower with 700hp to 1,000hp engine that won the Grand Prix at the 1900 Universal Exhibition in Paris.

   Delamare-Deboutreville was also rewarded for his work in other areas and even after his death his influence still reaped rewards. In 1898 at the International Congress of Fisheries Maritimes in Dieppe he detailed his treaties on mussel culture and was rewarded at the French and European maritime exhibitions for his inventions of fishing nets.

   He also re-designed the Joseph Emerson Dowson based gasifier with a much more efficient system, this led to a new line of gas-generating appliances that could generate the necessary steam though use of by the radiant heat of the furnace and the blower by a fan.

   Finally, in 1905 World Exhibition in Liège a new 1,500hp machine was exhibited, still based upon the work of Édouard Delamare-Deboutteville.

   Sadly Édouard didn’t utilize his patents to any degree and they sat locked in the annexes of his brother's spinning mill or in the gigantic office he had at Montgrimont. Had some of these patents been sold then it is possible that the family would have been able to compete more easily with the increasing competition companies with better locations for communication and power than the Delamare-Deboutteville properties.


   Édouard Delamare-Deboutteville died on the 17th of February 1901, at his home of castle Montgrimont near Bourg Fontaine. A very sudden illness claiming his life at the age of 45.

   After his death Édouard’s wife, Julie-Lucile, sold their home to a Monegasque hotelier Léon Célestin Dureteste. He was responsible for several changes to the castle but much of his work was lost when the building was damaged by fire.

   The work of Delamare-Deboutteville on internal combustion engines was continued by the "Société Simplex".


   A large stone memorial to Édouard Delamare-Deboutteville and Léon Malandin was erected in Fontaine-le-Bourg for the 100th anniversary of the first running of the car. It bears the faces of both the creators and an image of the patent drawing of the car; and clear reference to this vehicle being built prior to that of Karl Benz.

   As part of the centenary commemorations the French Postal service released a special stamp featuring images from the 1884 patent and the names of both the principle men, and first day covers of images based on the ideas of scenes of the era.

   The town hall at Fontaine-le-bourg has the address, 571, rue Édouard Delamare-Deboutteville, 76690 Fontaine-le-Bourg.

   Although Delamare-Deboutteville’s house in Rouen has been demolished the city has named a street after him. In a similar show of recognition, the town of Forges-les-Eaux has named it’s high school for him. The Lycee Delamare Deboutteville also proudly states it’s links with the honoured gentleman with a page on their website which reads :-

In 1958, a monument was inaugurated at the village fountain.

   Eduoard Delamare-Deboutteville (1958-1901) is a French industrialist. He made the first car with a motor explosion with Leon Maladin. It was in 1883 that Edouard Delamare-Deboutteville circulated his car, the engine of which was gas-fuelled, but the gas supply pipe burst during this first test, he replaced the gas with gasoline the time was not gasoline, but petroleum carbide).

   In order to use this product, he invented a carburetor with wicks. This vehicle first circulated in the first days of February 1884 on the road going from Fountaine le bourg to Cailly (76 Normandy).

   The anteriority of Edouard Delamare-Deboutteville on Karl Benz is therefore absolutely incontestable.

    Édouard's passion for collecting birds made him one of the main donors of the Museum of Natural History in Rouen. Georges Pennetier oversaw the use of the collection which must have been of substantial knowledge value as Pennetier was known for rejecting any donations which wouldn't add pedagogical value.Items from the Delamare-Deboutteville collection remain at the Museum.


   Édouard Delamare-Deboutteville lived a life of research and travel which gave a great deal of good to the world. His volume of work to improve the lives of the people in the areas of his influence was matched only by the variety of that work.

   This little-known automobile inventor and enthusiast of all things mechanical does deserve a place the history of the motor car. Arguments between the French and Germans may continue for some time but reality is Lenoir and Marcus both precede Delamare-Deboutteville, Benz and Daimler.

   The reasons Karl Benz is considered the inventor of the motor car isn’t because he built the first motorised vehicle but because he used all new, different designs and technologies to build his machine.

   The vehicles of de Rivaz, Lenoir and Marcus were largely of wooden construction. Perhaps understandably Delamare-Deboutteville and Daimler both chose to convert existing horse drawn vehicles by motorising them. Benz’ design is therefore markedly different from anything that came before it.

   However, this does not detract from the work of the other inventors mentioned. Daimler’s claim over Delamare-Deboutteville comes from the fact that Édouard made just the one proven machine, didn’t change the direction of any other motor designers, then put his motor cart away and did other things. Daimler continued to improve his designs and went into production. Some critics also say that the Delamare-Deboutteville/Maladin car was unsuccessful as the chassis broke during the test run and some claim it blew up. There seems little to back these points up and anyone who thinks Daimler’s or Benz’ first runs were a success is deluding themselves.

   Édouard Delamare-Deboutteville, and Leon Maladin, are still more than worthy of note for the things this design included. Clutch, differential, distributor and electronic sparking ignition all make this machine stand out from those before it and it marks a significant switch to a petroleum based fuel instead of using gas.

   More focused on developing mechanical methods to modernize the family's cotton factory Delamare-Deboutteville left a great legacy of patents and an ethos which carried on with his son Marcel who also received patents for his work in creating artificial wool like fibres.

   Édouard himself might not have worried much about the title of first motor car, for those who do then the only real certainty amongst all the arguing is that the first petrol fuelled internal combustion engine car is European.