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British Industrial History

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Andre Citroen

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André-Gustave Citroën (5 February 1878 – 3 July 1935) was a French industrialist. He is remembered chiefly for the make of car named after him, but also for his application of double helical gears.

1900 André Citroën went to visit family in Poland, and while travelling in the country he was introduced to a small company who had developed a process for cutting herringbone gears.[1] The implication seems to be that the Polish firm was machining wooden patterns from which gear castings were produced for use in mills, etc. Citroën decided to buy the licence of the manufacturing process, which was at that time held by Russian interests.

Cutting these gears required precision manufacturing. Back in France, André Citroën turned to American machine tool manufacturers for the most advanced machinery. He went on to develop the machining processes (apparently by high speed milling) to successfully produce high quality double helical steel gears and started in business in Paris making a range of single, double and multiple-cut gears.

By 1907 Andre Citroen and Co in London was selling gears of many types.

1908 Citroën became chairman of the Mors motor carriage company

1913 Citroen took over the Mors automobile company and increased output tenfold.

1913 André Citroën founded the Société des Engrenages Citroën in Paris. The chevron shape of the teeth on these gears was the basis of the double chevron logo of the Citroen company.

1914 With the outbreak of war, Citroën offered to increase output of shells; his factories produced more than 50 000 shells per day.

1919 Citroën founded the Citroën automobile company at his Quai de Javel factory in Paris.[2]

He introduced hitherto unknown (in Europe) mass production techniques borrowed from Henry Ford and within a year was manufacturing 100 cars per day.

1920s Also made crawler tractor and produced the half-track Citroen-Kegresse. Also made the Somua rotary cultivator and the Amoit mechanised plough

1934 After completely rebuilding the factory, the company was in financial trouble and Citroën's biggest creditor, Michelin, at the request of the French government, acquired control. André Citroën was removed from the post of Chairman and was replaced by Pierre Michelin who was in turn was replaced by Pierre Boulanger in 1938.

  • Note: Some sources claim that Citroen invented double helical or 'herringbone' gears. This is not so. Such gears were already in service in the 19th century, either having unmachined cast teeth or fully-machined teeth. Clearly the as-cast gears were inferior to gears with accurately machined teeth. In fact de Laval in Sweden and Parsons in the UK were using fully machined double helical gears from the 1880s and 1890s respectively for their very high speed steam turbines.

1935 Obituary[3]

Monsieur Andre Citroen, who died in Paris last week at the age of fifty-seven, was one of the outstanding industrial personalities of the post -war period. A Parisian by birth, he obtained his promotion at the Ecole Polytechnique in 1900, and after a year's military service he started the manufacture of helical gears in a small shop with a few workmen, which eventually developed into the important affair of Citroen Gears on the Quai de Javel, near where the great motor car factory was to be established. Early in the war Monsieur Citroen offered to lay down a works for the production of shells. This offer the Government accepted, and in two months he erected machine shops and was satisfactorily fulfilling the terms of his guarantee. At the same time, his organizing ability was utilised by the Government in various ways, notably in doubling the production of munitions at the Bourges Arsenal. After the Armistice Monsieur Citroen equipped his munition factory on the Quai de Javel for the manufacture of motor cars on a plan which was destined to change the outlook for the French automobile industry. He introduced mass production and borrowed from the United States ideas of labour-saving methods that enabled him to widen the market for cheaper cars. He built two factories outside Paris, and then reconstructed the Quai de Javel works and planned for a continually increasing production. He installed works in England, Germany, and other countries, and spent money lavishly on palatial showrooms at home and abroad, as well as upon ingenious publicity methods, such as illuminations in Paris and the use of the Eiffel Tower for luminous advertisements. His caravans across North Africa and through Asia had a geographical interest that associated the name of Citroen with scientific advancement. All this enterprise involved charges on the company that could only be justified by a continuous increase in the sale of cars the world over. When the slump came Monsieur Citroen would not admit that there could be a limit to the sale of cars. A withdrawal of credit brought disaster on the company, and pending its reconstruction the works were temporarily closed. Monsieur Citroen pursued aims beyond the limits of commercial prudence, and if he gave world-wide publicity to the French automobile industry, his failure has had a salutary effect in suppressing the competitive production of new models of cars.

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. [1] passion-citroen website: Les engrenages à chevrons
  2. Wikipedia
  3. The Engineer 1935/07/12