Widely known as La Ville Lumière or the ‘City of Lights’, Paris is famed for its streetlights, first tested in the late 18th century and which became a symbol of the city during the Belle Époque. It was when the whole world was in Paris, during World Expo 1878, that one of the most advanced forms of electrical lighting of its time – the Yablochkov candle – made its debut.
Inventors and entrepreneurs have long been hoping to harness the power of the sun as a long-term source of sustainable energy. French mathematics professor Augustin Mouchot was a precursor, when he first demonstrated the potential of this form of energy, showcasing the parabolic solar collector, at World Expo 1878 in Paris.
In an era of rapid technological change and regularly updated devices, it is easy to underestimate the revolutionary impact of new inventions in the late 19th century. At World Expo 1878 Paris, one such invention - Thomas Edison’s phonograph, capable of recording and playing back sound – seemed so amazing to visitors that many were convinced it was a fake.
Augustin Mouchot’s solar device made its debut at Expo 1878 Paris. At a time when France was seeking to rebuild itself following the Franco-Prussian war, the inventor of the first parabolic solar collector was seen as a genius.
A brilliant French mathematician who possessed a futuristic mentality that led him to foresee a time when the world would no longer be able to depend on non-renewable resources, Mouchot first built a solar-powered steam engine using a concave mirror to reflect the sun’s rays onto a glass-covered boiler. To his amazement, it worked perfectly and motivated him to experiment further in Northern Africa.