Louis-Nicolas Robert

Louis-Nicolas Robert was born in Paris, France on December 2, 1761. As a child he was physically frail and self-conscious, but studious and ambitious. From 1767-1776, he attended the school of the Religious Order of the Minimes in Paris and received an excellent education with a strong focus on science and mathematics.

In 1780 Robert joined the First Battalion of the Grenoble Artillery and in few years rose to the rank of sergeant-major. He married Charlotte Routier on November 11, 1794 in a civil ceremony. In 1791, Robert became clerk of the Didot family’s renowned Paris publishing house reporting to Saint-Léger Didot. Later, he took over as the inspector of personnel and technician/inventor at the Pierre-François Didot paper factory in Corbeil-Essonnes near Paris.

Robert was an inventor. After many trials and errors and with the help of Didot’s financial resources, Robert successfully built a small prototype model in 1797 characterized by an endless, 340 cm long and 64 cm wide, moving wire that could receive a continuous flow of stock and deliver a continuous sheet of wet paper to a pair of squeeze rolls. The continuous strip of wet paper came off the squeeze rolls and was manually hung over a series of cables or bars to dry. Prior to his invention, paper was made one sheet at a time, by dipping a rectangular frame or mould with a wire screen bottom into a vat of pulp. The frame could not be re-used until the previous sheet of paper was removed from it. A patent was granted to Robert by the French Government on January 18, 1799.

Robert and Didot quarreled over the ownership of the invention. Robert eventually sold both the patent and the prototype machine to Didot who wanted to develop and patent the machine in England, away from the distraction of the French Revolution. In March 1801, he struck a deal with brothers Sealy and Henry Fourdrinier, who ran a leading stationary house in London. After 6 years and approximately 60,000 British pounds of development costs, the Fourdriniers were awarded new patents and the Fourdrinier paper machine was born. Thus, Robert’s concept became the blueprint of the most widely used Fourdrinier paper machines. His invention was the most significant invention in more than 2000 years of papermaking history.

Robert could not take advantage of his invention. In 1812, in poor health, having both sold and lost control of his invention and the patent, Robert retired from paper-making and left Corbeil-Essonnes. He moved to Vernouillet, department Eure-et-Loir where he opened a small school where he continued to teach.

Louis-Nicolas Robert died on August 8, 1828 in Vernouillet, France. His statue stands in front of the church in Vernouillet.