Gustave, Auguste Ferrié

Portrait of Gustave Ferrié. Source : l'album de la guerre 1914-1919.© L'illustration

(19th November 1868, Saint-Michel de Maurienne: Savoie - 16th February 1932: Paris) 

Gustave Ferrié was born on the 19th November 1868 to Pierre Ferrié, an engineer for the Southern Railway and Antoinette Manecy. From his childhood, he grew up surrounded by so many drawings and inventions that when he was admitted to the Ecole Polytechnique in 1887, he chose military engineering. He was a radio transmissions engineer and in 1891 he was posted to this corps until 1898. His work during this period most notably involved increasing the range of the Eiffel Tower transmitter from 400 to 6,000km. In 1899, he was won over by wireless telegraphy after having attended a demonstration by Marconi on this new technology. The Minister for War, Freycinet, appointed him that same year to the Committee on Wireless Telegraphy Research between France and the United Kingdom in order to submit a report on the military applications for this means of communication. In addition, he worked on developing mobile military radio-communication units and in 1900 improved Branly's radio-detection system by inventing an electrolytic detector, an appliance that made sound transmission possible, the last version of which (1910) would be used by the French army during the First World War. As a Colonel in 1914, he identified the properties of the electron tube and considerably increased the range of the field transmitter/receivers used by the allied troops from 1916.

It was thanks to Ferrié's devices that in 1917 Mata-Hari' messages were intercepted and the spy's espionage activities were brought to an end. Promoted to General in 1919, he continued his research and the development of its military application: the construction of radio sets for the navy, the colonies and the air force. With such new links now possible, he refined the measurement of longitude and the earth's dimensions. Having reached the upper working age limit, he carried on working by special permission. Working on developing radio-electric techniques, he created a radio department at the Ecole supérieure d'Electricité. The scientific community recognised the major advances of his discoveries in the field of radio-telecommunications. The honours followed: in 1922, he was elected to the Academy of Sciences and became president of the International Scientific Radio Union as well as the international commission of longitudes by radio. He was also vice-president of the International Board of Scientific Unions, presided over the Committee of Geodesy and Geophysics and received the medal of honour from the Institute of Radio Engineers. Awarded the Legion of Honour, Gustave Ferrié was raised to the Dignity of the Great Cross in 1932. He died a short time later, on the 16th February, in hospital at the Val-de-Grâce hospital. His body rests in the Père-Lachaise Cemetery (89th division) beside his wife Pierrette Pernelle, whom he had married in 1908.

Further reading on the subject: Amoudry (Michel), Le Général Ferrié et la naissance des transmissions et de la radiodiffusion, Presses Universitaires de Grenoble, 2000