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Le Creusot (Municipality, Saône-et-Loire, France)

Last modified: 2022-03-01 by ivan sache
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Flag of Le Creusot - Image by Ivan Sache, 30 November 2011

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Presentation of Le Creusot

The municipality of Le Creusot (22,840 inhabitants in 2009; 1,811 ha; unofficial website) is located 100 km southwest of Dijon.

Le Creusot was mentioned for the first time, as Crosot, in a charter dated 1253. Coal was discovered in 1502; tax on coal extraction was prescribed by a chart dated 1510. Originally cropped on soil surface, coal started to be extracted in a pre-industrial manner in 1769, when King Louis XV granted a concession to François de la Chaise, Baron of Montcenis and lord of Le Creusot.
In 1782, Louis XVI ordered the building of the Montcenis Royal Foundry, modelled on similar English factories. The foundry, which included four smelting furnaces, ovens, forges and specialized workshops, purchased the colliery in 1786, digging several new shafts. Iron was supplied by nearby mines. The Royal Foundry manufactured cannons for the Navy and coastal defence; its main production, however, was made of pipes and cast iron to supply the Indret cannon foundry, since then supplied with English material. In 1786, Queen Marie-Antoinette ordered the transfer of the Queen's Crystal Factory from Sèvres to Le Creusot; appended to the Royal Foundry, the Crystal Factory would work until 1832. The Center Canal, inaugurated in 1793, facilitated communication with Le Creusot and boosted the development of the factories. During the Revolution, the Directory and the First Empire, the Le Creusot foundry produced cannons, ammunition and ballast for the Army and the Navy. In 1816, peace was reestablished; accordingly, the useless foundry was closed in 1833 while coal extraction was maintained.

Le Creusot developed as a stronghold of the Industrial Revolution under the leadership of the Schneider dynasty. In 1836, brothers Adolphe (1802-1845) and Eugène Schneider (1805-1875) purchased the former Royal Foundry. They progressively transformed Le Creusot in "Schneiderville" - this name change, proposed in 1856, was eventually not adopted; according to the paternalistic capitalistic system of the time, based on a delicate mixture of authoritarianism, religion, education and social advancement, the Schneider ruled all the aspects of the economical, social and political life of the town.
All families had at least one member working in the factory, which did not prevent several strikes and social struggle. The Schneider ruled the town from their headquarters located in the Glassworks' Manor, the seat of the former Queen's Glassworks, built by Barthélemy Jeanson. Surrounded by a park designed by Henri and Achille Duchêne, the manor welcomed all kinds of royalties and celebrities. Purchased in 1969 by the municipality of Le Creusot, the castle houses today a local museum and Académie François Bourdon, both dedicated to the study and preservation of the local industrial heritage.

The Schneider completely revamped the old foundry into modern steelworks able to compete with the English factories, building brand new workshops and introducing the newest technologies, such as puddling. The steelworks produced in 1838 the first locomotive made and used in France. In 1855, the Crimean War was a good opportunity for the Schneider to enter the war market; the steelworks manufactured different kinds of engines for the Navy and the first armoured steel sheets for warships, invented by engineer Henri Dupuy de Lôme. In the next decade, the Schneider completed their autonomy, increasing the steelworks and purchasing several iron and coal mines in the region. The Bessemer process was introduced in France in 1870 in Le Creusot. The Franco-Prussian War was yet another opportunity to increase the repute of Le Creusot; the steelworks became a main supplier of the Army and the Navy; in 1884, exportation of French warcraft was allowed by law, which permitted Schneider to enter the international market. At the turn of the 20th century, the Schneider started electrification of their factories and mines. They set up several shooting ranges and basins in the military ports to test the cannons, warships and submarines produced in Le Creusot and in their other factories.

After the Second World War, the company became holding Schneider & Co., managing several fully-owned subsidiaries covering a wide range of industrial activities. The unexpected death of Charles Schneider in 1960 ended a four-generation family rule on the company and caused a succession crisis. Renamed Creusot-Loire, the steelworks were incorporated into the Empain-Schneider group. In 1980, Baron Empain transferred all his shares in the group to Didier Pineau-Valenciennes, who renamed the group Schneider and drastically restructured it.
Schneider withdrew from steel production, deemed no longer profitable, and focused on electrical and controls industry, forming the very profitable Schneider Electric Group. The steelworks of Le Creusot were closed in 1984, causing a big stir in the region. A limited number of workshops was maintained and transferred to the Usinor group (subsequently, Arcelor and, today, Arcelor-Mittal). Other grounds of the former steelworks were reused by companies such as General Electric / Thermodyn, Safran / Snecma, Areva and Alstom.

Ivan Sache, 30 November 2011

Flag of Le Creusot

The flag of Le Creusot is horizontally divided blue-red with the municipal coat of arms (crown, supporters and scroll excluded) in the center. The field of the coat of arms is represented in light blue, probably to increase contrast with the blue stripe of the flag.
A copy of the flag, kindly supplied by the Technical Division of the municipality, was hoisted in the Geographic South Pole by Dominique Paulet, a physicist from Utah State University born in Le Creusot (Le Creusot Infos, 9 February 2012).

The coat of arms of Le Creusot, designed by Robert Louis and adopted in 1950 by the Municipal Council, is "Azure a power hammer argent the ingot on the anvil gules between in chief two miner's lamps or lighted of the third a base of the fourth a chief gules an anchor argent between two fleurs-de-lis or. The shield surmounted by a four-towered mural crown or and surrounded dexter by a branch of oak fructed and sinister by a palm all or crossed per saltire beneath the shield and holding a parchment scroll inscribed in Roman letters sable 'FAC FERRUM. PER SPEM'. The Cross of War 1939-1945 appended to the shield".

The arms show a realistic representation of the emblematic power hammer of Le Creusot (presentation), designed by engineer François Bourdon (1797-1865). Hired in the old foundry and fired when the factory closed in 1833, Bourdon emigrated to the USA, bringing with him "a slide rule and an English dictionary". He worked for a while in New York and discovered the emerging steam navigation on the Great Lakes. Back to Europe, he worked for a shipyard in Liverpool until the Schneider brothers hired him in March 1837 to direct the revamped construction workshop, mostly aimed at building big engines for the Navy. Bourdon moved in 1852 to Marseilles to direct a local factory also involved in supplying the Navy.
Bourdon designed a new, steam-powered hammer in 1840. The patent was registered by Schneider in 1842, but the power hammer was built only in 1875 and inaugurated on 23 September 1877, a decade after the death of his inventor. The hammer weights 100 tons and is 21 m in height, standing on foundations of 8.50 m in depth. It originally stood near four ovens and four steam-powered cranes. Once the most powerful tool of that kind in the world, the hammer could be heard from a distance of up to 10 km. In spite of its dimensions, the power hammer was a precision tool; experienced workers could use it to cork a bottle or to break a nutshell without damaging the fruit. Carefully dismantled and stored in 1931, the power hammer was offered to the municipality of Le Creusot in 1969. It stands now at the southern road entrance of the town.

In the chief of the arms, the naval anchor is used as the old emblem of the ironmasters, also recalling the Royal Foundry supplying the Navy. It is also a symbol of hope. The fleurs-de-lis appear on the seals of the Royal Foundry and of the Queen's Glassworks.
The miner's lamps recall the local collieries.
The mural crown symbolizes the fortress of Montcenis, once protecting the region where the town of Le Creusot would develop.
The town's motto - "Work iron and bear future" - summarizes the past of the town and predicts its future. It should be understood as "Work iron, make steel and quality products, so that your work founds the rebirth and prosperity of the town.
The Cross of War was granted to Le Creusot to commemorate the partial destruction of the town during the Second World War. Air bombings aimed at stopping the steelworks under German occupation (17 October 1942 and 20-21 June 1943) claimed more than 350 lives.

Ivan Sache, 30 November 2011