Homage to “Petit Père Bouton”

Published on by Amandine Romano Pierard - updated on

Today - Tuesday 22 November – we are focusing on Georges Thadée Bouton, the man behind the De Dion-Bouton engine and many other advances in technology in his century.

Although small in stature - only 5’ 1” tall -  he was a giant in every other respect. His ingenuity knew no bounds and he truly was the father of the motor car.

Born on 22 November 1847, this diminutive man came from a line of photographers but broke the family mould by applying his talent to motorised vehicles. At a very early age, Bouton began an apprenticeship in the workshop of M. Dubourg. He spent some years there, then continued his training in Le Havre at the Forges et Chantiers de la Méditerranée before rounding it off in Paris with Hermann La Chapelle.

A few years later, Georges Bouton discovered his intellectual counterpart in his neighbour, Charles Armand Trépardoux (who became first his friend and then his brother-in-law). An Engineering graduate from the École des Arts et Métiers, Trépardoux joined forces with Bouton with the aim of building a steam engine that could be used in any mechanised vehicle. The idea of a self-propelled device took off and they reached a speed of 40 kph at their first attempt.

They began by building miniature locomotives and steam boats, and the ideas came thick and fast. It was these same miniatures that captivated Count Albert de Dion and convinced him of the potential of these two naïve friends. His financial backing boosted their inventive genius to new heights and their major inventions included the imposing Phaeton (a beautiful, big motor car with the engine alone weighing 400 kg).

Trépardoux made the mistake of leaving the company in 1893 because of a disagreement with De Dion but Bouton remained - for the better - and the motor industry will forever be indebted to him for doing so. Everything was against them and in another life, they would probably never even have spoken to one another without the magic of innovation and the taste for engineering that helped to unite the intrepid duo. The one was small and timid, the other a giant with the gift of the gab. Even so, by the beginning of the 20th Century, these two trail-blazing associates had manufactured 4,000 vehicles and over 80,000 engines. Well before Citroën’s “Croisière Jaune”, they entered two vehicles in the first Peking to Paris race. All the major constructors of the day used their engines: Renault, Delage and many others.

Living for engineering and attentive to detail, they spent their time producing vehicles for the general public, including buses, fire engines and tractors. No vehicle was beyond reach of their imagination and they rose to great heights.


The Emperors of the motoring world, they supplied kings and princes across the planet. The 35 bhp V8 De Dion-Bouton engine propelled many different cars, including some manufactured in America. They had other tricks up their sleeve as well, one of which was maps - Michelin only entered the lists years later.

There is also no doubt that De Dion-Bouton contributed to the technological development of the French Army in the run-up to World War I.

In the end, age caught up with “Petit Père Bouton” and he finally ran out of steam in 1938.