Abstract: Knowledge Sharing in War and Peace: Patents, Inventors, and the Arms Industry in France, 1816-1914

Gabriel Galvez-Behar


The development and circulation of military technology is based on conflicting needs and requirements. In times of war, patriotic interests seem to command the immediate sharing of relevant inventions, even when these would normally be kept secret in order to secure a business advantage. In peacetime, private economic interests may take precedence over the interests of the nation. Therefore, as regards military technology, degrees of openness in the exploitation of innovative knowledge strongly depend on the context. The purpose of this contribution is to analyze this kind of variation by studying the relationship between inventors, the military, and the defense industry in late nineteenth and early twentieth century France. First, we will consider the specificity of the French arms industry in the nineteenth century. Then, we will consider the Franco-German War of 1870-71, when committees for invention were created in response to a patriotic fervor. Then we will focus on the practice of knowledge sharing by describing the case of Eugène Turpin, the inventor of melinite, an explosive of major importance to the French artillery. Particular attention will be paid to how Turpin was wedged between the interests of the French army and those of the armament industry.