A World Powered by Compressed Air

A French magazine from 1847 describes the enthusiasm of M. Antoine Andraud for compressed air. M. Andraud actually made some experiments with compressed-air vehicles in the 1840s, but he dreamed of much more. This new translation first appeared at Dr. Boli’s Random Translations.


Since steam was applied to locomotion on railroads, the attention of scientists and practical men must have turned often to the enormous consumption of combustible fuel that the exploitation of a railway necessitates. To find a new motor that does not require, or at least that reduces the use, of costly material, indispensable in many circumstances, and whose rarity cannot be long in making itself felt: such has been and still is the problem to be solved, and, the question being thus posed, it is easy to conceive the preoccupations of those who advocate the use of atmospheric air as the agent of traction. It is certain that, from the point of view of economy, industry, in the majority of cases, would benefit by making use of this force which is almost free, especially if it could be made to work better than coal, whose ever-growing consumption must soon exceed the ability of the mines to supply it. As everyone knows, moreover, that the use of steam is founded upon the expansive force of that fluid, everyone also understands that it is possible to apply atmospheric air to the same uses; the difficulty is entirely in the means of putting this dynamic power to use.

A number of attempts have been made over the past few years to gain some use from the elasticity of the gas that surrounds our globe. Among the most exalted partisans of aerodynamics we must mention M. Andraud, who has enthusiastically publicized the omnipotence of his new motor. According to him, the transportation of letters, the cultivation of land, navigation, drilling, and the defense of cities at war, should henceforth be done only with the aid of compressed air. Acoustics would more and more become the tributary of that agent, and one of the great surprises prepared for our descendants will be hearing those monstrous concerts of which M. Andraud thought he was giving us a very attractive idea by comparing them to the sublime crashes of thunder. The honorable inventor also expects to accomplish aerial navigation with his universal motor; he even dreams occasionally of perpetual motion, but this time he employs the air dilated by a little hearth, or rather, in those countries where the sun is generous to the point of insolence, by an assemblage of mirrors which he calls a solar furnace. Furthermore, M. Andraud logically proposes to use only wind-powered and hydraulic wheels to compress the air, and would regard as purely transitory the use of steam as an agent of compression. Such, in short, is his powerful conviction that he expresses himself thus: “If I turn my thought to the future, I believe that a time will come when municipal authorities will establish in the cities vast reservoirs of compressed air, where each citizen will come, with his empty container, to tap into the force that has become of the utmost utility, as we see water carriers in Paris filling their barrels from the public fountains. We must come to the point where everyone shall be able to have forces stored up, as today we have horses in the stable for tomorrow’s labor.” M. Andraud, as we see, certainly does not fail for lack of imagination; unfortunately, out of all these fine things, and many others we did not see fit to speak of, only one has really been submitted to experiment. We speak of a compressed-air locomotive; and, if we are not mistaken, it was as much as it could do to propel itself. M. Andraud is evidently a man of merit who has made a wrong turn, and who forgets too easily that, when it comes to invention, there is a world of illusions between more or less seductive hypotheses and practical applications.

Revue des deux mondes, 1847.

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