Surprising French inventions from France we use every day & their Inventors

In addition to giving the world some of the finest food and wine, France has given the world some Famous French Inventions we use every day that most people take for granted.

By Annie André ⦿ updated January 10, 2024  
famous french inventions from France we still use today
famous french inventions from France we still use today

French innovation gave us some of the finest food, wine and cheese the world has ever known. But France has also given the world some Inventions that many of us take for granted. Here are some important French inventions we use every day and their inventive inventors.

Important French Inventions From France

Where would we be without French innovation: the refrigerator, pasteurized milk or the ability to take pictures with our smartphone?

These are just a fraction of the French inventions that have become essential modern conveniences that most people take for granted.

1) Personal Computer

French inventor: François Gernelle

In 1994, on the 20th anniversary of the micro-computer, François Gernelle was surprised to see a TV announcer report that his old boss, André Truong, was the inventor of the first micro-computer MICRAL.

After four years of legal battles in the “cour d’appel de Versailles,” Gernelle won the right to call himself the father or inventor of the micro-computer in 1998.

Despite being the inventor, neither Gernelle nor Truong made it rich from the microcomputer. According to Grenelle, they missed the boat in 1975 when Truong turned down a 2 million dollar offer from Honeywell to buy MICRAL and its software. Truong wanted 4 million.

2) The Refrigerator

French inventor: Father Marcel Audiffren

Father Marcel Audiffren needed to find a way to keep wine cool at the monastery, so he came up with a clunky contraption in 1894 to do just that.

General electrics, an American company, bought the patent and produced the first refrigeration machines for residential use in 1911 for nearly $1,000 a pop. That was almost twice the cost of a car back in the day. Thanks to evolving technological progress, these units now come in various sizes to suit all kinds of budgets.

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3) The Sewing Machine

French inventor: Barthélemy Thimonnier

Portable Mini Sewing Machine

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The French don’t shy away from making their grievances known. After spending years creating the perfect sewing machine, Bathelemy Thimonnier opened the first sewing factory in Paris. One year later, 200 irate French tailors descended on the factory, destroying nearly 80 sewing machines. They weren’t too fond of an invention that threatened their livelihood.

Thimonnier never became rich from his handy chain-stitching machine, and he died a poor man. Isaac Merrit Singer, an American marketing whizz, turned the tides on this French invention and made it a global success. His ingenious marketing strategies, coupled with installment plans, appealed to the modern woman, and they bought his Singer sewing machines in droves.

4) Pasteurization

French inventor: Louis Pasteur

It’s practically impossible to go through school without learning about Louis Pasteur, inventor of the pasteurization process.

The French chemist and inventor discovered that germs were primarily responsible for food spoilage, busting a commonly held myth that spoilage was spontaneous.

His discovery led him to invent the pasteurization process that involved heating foods to kill the contaminating micro-organism.

By eliminating these contaminants, pasteurization makes food safe and able to store for longer periods. That’s why you can enjoy a glass of store-bought milk without worrying about it going bad right away. The process is now a critical part of food production industries worldwide.

5) Canned Foods

French inventor: Nicholas Appert, aka “the father of canning.”

French Paté from France

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Napoleon Bonaparte found it challenging to keep his French army well-fed. In 1800, he put up 12,000 francs as prize money to anyone who’d help solve this pressing problem and preserve food for an extended period.

It took almost a decade, but a Parisian chef and French confectioner named Nicolas Appert figured out a method to preserve food in hermetically sealed glass containers. He wrapped the containers in canvas before cooking them in hot boiling water and sealing them with wax.

Pierre Durand, another French man, introduced tin cans instead of glass jars, giving the process its signature name, canning.

6) The Camera Phone

Franco American inventor: Philippe Kahn

Although companies were seeking ways to infuse cameras and video phones with other communication capabilities, their efforts didn’t bear fruit until 1997.

Parisian Philippe Kahn created the first camera phone solution sharing pictures instantly on public networks. Kahn shared a picture of his newly born daughter to more than 2,000 friends, family, and colleagues spread across the world. Sophie’s picture was the first-ever image shared from a cell phone.

Pierre’s software and the production of a cell phone with a camera set the stage for smartphones and devices. Philippe Kahn currently lives in the United States and is now an American Citizen.

hilippe Kahn took the first ever cell phone picture of his then-newborn daughter Sophie in Santa Cruz County.

7) The Hairdryer

French inventor: Alexandre Godefroy

Alexandre Godefroy French man who invented the first hair dryer

French hairstylist, Alexandre Godefroy, gave the world its first hairdryer in 1888. The huge and cumbersome helmet-shaped headset attached to the chimney pipe of his salon’s stove. It used an electromechanical device to blow hot air on wet hair, speeding up the water evaporations process.

21 years later, in 1911, Gabriel Kazanjian, an Armenian-American inventor, patented the handheld blower.

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8) The Calculator

French inventor: Blaise Pascal

Blaise Pascal invented the calculator in 1642 to help his father with his job as a tax collection supervisor in Rouen, France. He designed a machine that could subtract and add two numbers and perform division and multiplication through repeated subtraction and addition.

King Louis XIV gave Pascal the exclusive patent design to manufacture his calculating machine throughout France. Later, inventors built on pascal’s design to build faster calculators with more functionalities.

9) Modern Pencil lead

French inventor: Nicholas Jacques Conté

Lead-fired pencils were invented in 1564 following the discovery of an enormous graphite mine in England. However, the Napoleonic wars led to an economic blockade that prevented France from sending or receiving food, supplies, weapons, and graphite from Great Britain, the main source of the material.

In 1795, a Mathematician, physicist and politician named Lazare Nicolas Marguerite Carnot commissioned Nicholas Jacques Conté to find a solution for producing pencils that did not rely on foreign imports. Conté discovered that he could produce pencil lead by mixing clay with kiln-fired powdered graphite and pressing the two together to form the standard graphite pencil.

10) Pencil Sharpener

French inventor: Bernard Lassimone

Globe 1 Hole Pencil Sharpener

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If it weren’t for French mathematician Bernard Lassimone, we might still be sharpening our pencils with a knife.

In 1828, Lassimone filed for a patent for “taille crayon,” the first mechanical pencil sharpener. It used two small metal files in a block of wood tilted at a right angle that slowly scraped and ground the pencil wood to create a tip. Although it was more accurate than using a knife, the process still took a considerable amount of time.

20 years later, In 1847, Thierry des Estivaux, another French man, improved the mechanical pencil sharpener device that we still use today. His design used a conical-shaped device that whittled away the wood at once when the pencil was twisted, making the sharpening process much quicker.

11) The Etch-A-Sketch

French inventor: André Cassagnes

Etch A Sketch, Classic Red Drawing Toy with Magic Screen

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French electrical technician André Cassagnes created the world-famous red drawing toy that doesn’t require batteries or wifi.

He called his French invention the télécran aka L’Ecran Magique (the magic screen). Unfortunately, when he took it to market in the late 1950s, no manufacturer or investors were interested in it.

American company Ohio Art company must have seen something in this new fangled toy because they purchased the license for the toy, renamed it Etch-a-Sketch, marketed it like crazy, and by the 1960s, it was a must-have toy for kids. It hasn’t changed much since it was first invented, and it’s been sold in stores ever since. 

12) Movie Cinema

French inventors: Lumière brothers

French inventors: The Lumiere brothers invented not only the Cinematograph, predecessor to the modern day movie projector but also movie posters
French inventors: The Lumiere brothers invented not only the Cinematograph, predecessor to the modern-day movie projector but also movie posters!

Two French cinema and photography pioneers, known as the Lumière brothers, invented and patented the Cinématographe in 1895, a camera, printer and projector that could record and project a film onto a large screen.

Cinematographe is the early term for several motion picture film mechanisms that gave its name to the words “cinema” and “cinematographer.”

Le Salon Indien du Grand Café was a room in the basement of the Grand Café, on the Boulevard des Capucines near the Place de l’Opéra in the center of Paris. It is notable for being the place that hosted

The first commercial public film screening by the Lumière brothers was held on December 28, 1895, in the basement of the Grand Café in a room called “Le Salon Indien du Grand Café.” 

13) Champagne

French inventor: Dom Perignon

Before becoming the name of a famous Champagne brand, Dom Perignon was the name of a 17th century French Benedictine monk from Champagne France. Dom was a title reserved for the Roman Catholic clergy and nobles.

It’s impossible to know for sure, and it’s been disputed by historians, but according to legend, Dom Perignon invented the process of turning wine into the bubbly French aperitif we know as Champagne in 1697 by accident. Fake news? We’ll never know.

14) Braille

French inventor: Louis Braille

Louis Braille is credited with inventing Braille in 1824, the tactile reading system for the visually impaired using raised dots that are still used today. However, Louis Braille could never have done it if it weren’t for Charles Barbier de La Serre, a French soldier in Napoleon Bonaparte’s army.

Charles Barbier was often stationed on the front line and witnessed fellow officers killed by snipers because the light they used to read maps or messages at night gave away their position and made them sitting ducks.

Charles created a system of night writing so that foot soldiers could send messages that could be read by touch. The only problem was that his superiors found his invention too impractical for soldiers in the field.

In 1821, convinced his system could help civilians, Charles Barnier went to the Royal Institute for Blind Youths in Paris, the first school of its kind for blind children.

Louis Braille was a 12-year-old blind student at that school. Louis Braille simplified Barbier’s system by reducing the number of dots to just three dots high by two across so that every letter of the alphabet and symbol could be quickly reproduced by hand and identified by touch.

15) Stethoscope

French inventor: René-Théophile-Hyacinthe Laënnec

It’s well known that René Laënnec, a French physician invented the stethoscope and perfected the art of examining the chest cavity by sound; however, the story of how he invented it is not so well known.

Some stories say he was too shy to put his ear to a woman’s chest.

Physicians at the time used a technique called percussion and auscultation during physical examinations. The technique required striking the chest using fingertips and immediately placing their ear against the chest to listen. This method came with limitations like the inability to amplify sounds and required awkward physical contact with the patient.

During one examination, rather than using the percussion and auscultation techniques to listen to one of his female patients’ chest, he asked for a piece of paper. He then rolled it up into a cylinder, placed it against the patient’s chest, and was surprised at how well he could hear her heart.

He then went on to create the first stethoscope, which was a hollow tube of wood. He put one end on the chest of patients and his ear on the other end.

16) Quinine: Original anti-malarial drug 

French inventor: Pierre Joseph Pelletier and Joseph Caventou

Quinine is a substance made from the bark of the South-American Cinchona tree or (Kina-Kina) native to Peru, effective in curing Malaria, which is deadly if not treated. 

The Kina Bark had been used to treat Malaria since at least 1632.

Originally the bark had to be dried, then ground to a fine powder, and mixed into a liquid (usually alcohol), which would then be drunk by the Malaria stricken patients. Tonic water, which contains Quinine, was also marketed as a means of delivering quinine anti-malarial protection.

In 1820, two French scientists named Pierre Joseph Pelletier and Joseph Caventou isolated the Quinine element in the bark. Purified Quinine then replaced the bark as the standard treatment for Malaria. It was the first effective chemical compound cure ever created for an infectious disease. 

After World War II, other drugs with fewer side effects, such as chloroquine, replaced Quinine as a malaria treatment. 

Quinine created a new breed of cocktails.

Dubonnet is a French aperitif drink that contains Quinine: Originally created as a way to deliver Quinine to French troops to cure Malaria

Quinine was very bitter. The French government put out a call for a palatable way to get French troops in malaria-ravaged countries such as Africa /Algeria to get enough Quinine to fight Malaria.

This kicked off a new breed of French apéritif drinks with Quinine such as Lilet, Dubonnet, and St Raphael. 

British soldiers in India mixed gin ad tonic water and lime to make the bitter Quinine more palatable, which gave birth to the famous gin and tonic cocktail still popular today. 

17) The modern bras

French inventor: Herminie Cadolle

First modern bra was a corset cadolle: invented by female French inventor Herminie Cadolle

Women around the world have a female French inventor and feminist Herminie Cadolle (1845–1926) to thank for the modern bras.

Before she invented the modern bras, women wore tight, restrictive and uncomfortable corsets first introduced to the French royal court by Catherine de Medici in the 1500s.  

Herminie took the design of a traditional corset and cut it into two pieces that were meant to be worn together. The upper “bras” part supported the breasts with shoulder straps, and the lower part was a corset for the waist. She called her bras and corset ensemble a “corselet gorge” but later renamed it “le bien-être” (the well-being.)  Her invention first appeared in a corset magazine in 1889, and by 1905, women could buy the upper half of the corset separately as a soutien-gorge, the French word which bras are still known in French. 

The Cadolle lingerie house is still family-owned. 

18) The Polo Shirt

French inventor: Jean René Lacoste

René Lacoste invented the modern polo shirt which was originally called a tennis shirt

Almost every man has owned the versatile Polo shirt; for work, sports, or streetwear. 

Despite its name, Polo shirts were first designed for tennis by French tennis player Jean René Lacoste (1904 –1996). He was one of the world’s top tennis players in the 1920’s. But if the name Lacoste sounds familiar, it’s because he is also the founder of the world-famous sports fashion label Lacoste.  

Tennis shirts were originally very restrictive, formal looking with long sleeves and a button-up white collar. Lacoste designed a more comfortable tennis shirt with short-sleeves and short flat collars which he wore for the first time at the 1926 U.S. Open championship. After he retired from tennis, he began mass-producing and selling his Tennis shirts in 1933. 

Polo players adopted the tennis shirt in the 1930s, and by the 1950s, Lacoste’s tennis shirt became commonly known as the polo shirt.

19)  Percolation system & the 1st drip coffee maker (“La Débéloire” or “Le Dubelloire”)

French inventor: Jean-Baptiste de Belloy

drip coffee maker invented by Jean-Baptiste de Belloy La Débelloire

Where would the world be without coffee and French cafés? Although the French didn’t invent coffee or coffee houses, they did contribute to its success.

Around 1800, Jean-Baptiste de Belloy, the Archbishop of Paris invented the first drip coffee maker called the La Débéloire” or “Le Dubelloire.” His inventive coffee maker was simple but effective. It involved stacking two containers, separated by a compartment holding coffee grounds. You had to pour boiling water into the top container; meanwhile, the coffee slowly absorbed the water and trickled into the bottom container as drinkable coffee. 

If you’ve ever had a Vietnamese Iced Coffee (Cafe Sua Da), then you’ve already used a débéloire.

Vietnamese Iced Coffee (Cafe Sua Da) uses a metal débéloire invented in 1800 by French archbishop Jean-Baptiste de Belloy on a table

Are you interested in learning about other inventions from around the world?

Invention (Eyewitness Books)

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07/17/2024 03:10 am GMT

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning I get a 'petite commission' at no extra cost to you if you make a purchase through my links. It helps me buy more wine and cheese. Please read my disclosure for more info.

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Annie André

Annie André

About the author

I'm Annie André, a bilingual North American with Thai and French Canadian roots. I've lived in France since 2011. When I'm not eating cheese, drinking wine or hanging out with my husband and children, I write articles on my personal blog for intellectually curious people interested in all things France: Life in France, travel to France, French culture, French language, travel and more.


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