Arthur Constantin Krebs was born on November 16, 1850 in Vesoul (France). From childhood, Arthur was interested in technology and even according to the testimony of relatives, dismantled his mother’s sewing machine in order to build a small sawmill. He was fond of books on physics and mechanics. At eleven, he was fascinated by popular science book published by Adolphe Ganot. Arthur drew well and his knowledge of technology was embodied in technical drawings. Drawing will be the preferred way of expressing his thoughts, to the detriment of verbal argumentation.
At a court hearing in the Selden case (New York, 1906, Arthur C. Krebs Testimony), Arthur Krebs told in detail about his education, inventions, and engineering projects, in which he participated until he was elected Technical Director of Panhard & Levassor.
“Previous to 1870 my education had been particularly directed to preparation for L’Ecole Polytechnic; but owing to the war with Germany, and my being in Besançon on the frontier, I was not able to take the entrance examinations, because they did not take place. I entered an artillery regiment and about November, 1870, as sub-lieutenant in an infantry regiment. After the war I was transferred to St. Cyr School, where I remained for one year in order to complete my military education. Since then I have continually been occupied with mechanical matters, and I applied myself to studies to equip myself as engineer, by my own efforts, keeping myself in close touch with new developments in the mechanical arts.”
In 1877 he was detailed to the Engineer Corps Staff in order to study and investigate the utility of balloons in warfare. From 1877 to 1885 he cooperated in all of the work on construction of captive balloons for military purposes. This work comprised, in addition to the construction of balloons proper, the study and construction of materials for readily producing hydrogen gas, and also of vehicles with steam windlass for handling balloons, etc. All the mechanical work had been the subject of special study by him, and to accomplish this he constructed and organized a shop located in the Park of Chalais-Meudon. Arthur Krebs bought and accepted in 1878, at Périn, Panhard & Cie (future Panhard & Levassor), a two horse power Otto four-stroke engine for installation at the balloon sewing shop. As described above, the company Périn, Panhard & Cie at that time produced Otto engines under license. Could Arthur Krebs imagine that in twenty years he will be the Technical Director of this company?
At the same time he collaborated with Charles Renard in the study and in the construction of the dirigible “La France” the first balloon equipped with a motor which rose in the air and maneuvered successfully and returned to the starting point. The first ideas entertained for the propulsion of balloons involved the idea of a gas engine but the study of the subject soon showed him that in view of the actual conditions of the construction of these motors they were much too heavy. It was then that he selected an electric motor operated by a very light battery. Electricity was then undergoing great development and he was therefore led to its study in order to solve the problem of the dirigible balloon.
Arthur Krebs built an electrical engine 8 HP at 1200 RPM and August 9, 1884 personally guided the dirigible “La France”. The dirigible flew to the distance of 7 km 600 m and Arthur Krebs became the first aerial pilot in the world history.
In 1886, Renard and Krebs received the Ponti Award from the Academy of Sciences “for the progress they have made in air navigation.”
In 1886 Arthur Krebs was detailed on naval construction service to collaborate in the construction of the submarine “Gymnote”, which had been the model for the construction of a number of submarines for the navy, until it became possible to displace the electric motor by the petrol motor.
In 1885, Gustave Zede, former Director of Naval Construction and Administrator of the “Forges et Chantiers” (French shipbuilding company), proposed to Krebs the development of the entire electrical and mechanical part of his submarine project. Krebs was located in Paris, at the headquarters of the fire brigade, where he made plans, contacted suppliers and coordinated the entire project. For this, the Minister of War agrees to “lend” Krebs to the Ministry of the Navy.
Krebs designed a 52 HP electric motor weighing 2 tons, which was built and tested at “Forges and Chantiers” in Havre. Finally, on November 17, 1888, Krebs went to Toulon to participate in the first trials. A small submarine named “Gymnote”, where he took his place with his two assistants, behaved very dignified. The submarine plunges and pops up with amazing ease.
It was necessary to replace the magnetic compass, which does not work inside the iron case of submarine. In 1889, Arthur Krebs added an electric motor of his own to the Dumoulin (builder of the Foucault gyroscope) marine gyroscope. That gave the “Gymnote” submarine the ability to keep a straight line while underwater for several hours, thereby creating the ancestor of gyroscopic compasses that would be born at the beginning of the next century. Arthur Krebs also applied the first periscope in submarines.
The Gymnote submarine will serve until 1907 training purposes for submarine personnel.
Until 1891, Krebs led the design of electrical equipment for “Forges and Chantiers”. He patented a portable electric motor with a hose, which would then be sold commercially by Electric Lighting as a “hammer drill.” He also designed electric motors for marine cannons and boat fans.
Since 1884, Krebs served in the fire department of the city of Paris. First, he served as head of the general service (1884–1887), then as captain-engineer (1888–1890) and, finally, as chief engineer (1891–1897).
To study the organization of the fire service in the different capitals of Europe and America, Krebs accompanied his boss Colonel Custon in December 1884 in London; in 1885 in the United States; in 1886 in Brussels, Amsterdam, The Hague, London; in 1891 in Berlin, St. Petersburg, Moscow, Warsaw and Vienna. In 1895, he returned to the United States to check on the actual update of the Paris Fire Service.
In 1888, Arthur Krebs, together with an engineer and industrialist Durenne, patented and built a fire steam pump, which, with light weight, worked with great savings, comparable to that of the best stationary machines.
According to the results of these trips, Krebs, using scientific methods of labor organization, managed to organize the fire service of Paris, significantly increasing its effectiveness. The firefighter historian Didier Rolland summarized the results of Arthur Krebs’s service in the fire department of Paris: “Over the thirteen years of service in the regiment, he performed the following key functions: he created the original fire service, which today proved its ability to grow. The current organization is still based on the basic principles of the Krebs reorganization.”
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