De Dion-Bouton was a French automobile manufacturer and railcar
manufacturer operating from 1883 to 1953. The company was founded by
Marquis Jules-Albert de Dion, Georges Bouton, and Bouton's
brother-in-law Charles Trépardoux.
The company was formed after de Dion in 1881 saw a toy locomotive in a
store window and asked the toymakers to build another. Engineers
Bouton and Trépardoux had been eking out a living with scientific
toys at a shop in the Passage de Léon, near "rue de la Chapelle" in
Paris. Trépardoux had long dreamed of building a steam car, but
neither could afford it. De Dion, already inspired by steam (in the
form of rail locomotives) and with ample money, agreed, and De
Dion, Bouton et Trépardoux was formed in
Paris in 1883. This became
De Dion-Bouton automobile company, the world's largest automobile
manufacturer for a time, becoming well known for their quality,
reliability, and durability.
1 Steam cars
Internal combustion engines
2.2 Four wheelers
2.3 Engine supplier to automobile manufacturers
3 Engine supplier to moto bicycle builders
4 American De Dion
6 Post-war stagnation
7 After World War II
11 External links
De Dion steam car in Paris–Rouen race of 1894
Before 1883 was over, they had set up shop in larger premises in the
Passage de Léon, Paris, tried and dropped steam engines for boats,
and produced a steam car. With the boiler and engine mounted at the
front, driving the front wheels by belts and steering with the rear,
it burned to the ground on trials. They built a second, La Marquise,
the next year, with a more conventional steering and rear-wheel drive,
capable of seating four.
Marquis de Dion entered one of these in an 1887 trial, "Europe's
first motoring competition", the brainchild of one M. Fossier of
cycling magazine Le Vélocipède. Evidently, the promotion was
insufficient, for the De Dion was the sole entrant, but it completed
the course, with de Dion at the tiller, and was clocked at
60 km/h (37 mph). This must be taken with considerable
care; the first official land speed record, set in 1898, was
63.15 km/h (39.24 mph). The vehicle survives, in road-worthy
condition, and has been a regular entry in the London to Brighton
Veteran Car Run.
Following this singular success, the company offered steam tricycles
with boilers between the front wheels and two-cylinder engines. They
were built in small numbers, evidently a favorite of young playboys.
They were later joined by a larger tractor, able to pull trailers
(sometimes called a "steam drag"). This larger vehicle introduced the
so-called De Dion or "dead" axle; an axle beam carried the weight of
the vehicle with the non weight-bearing driveshafts or drive chains
articulated separately alongside it.(footnote: The live axle carries
the weight by a rigid tube around the driveshaft, both parts fastened
together.) On July 22, 1894, Paris–Rouen race, it averaged
18.7 km/h (11.6 mph) over the 126 km (78 mi)
route, but was disqualified for needing both a driver and a stoker.
Two more cars were made in 1885 followed by a series of lightweight
two-cylinder tricars, which from 1892 had
Michelin pneumatic tyres. In
1893, steam tractors were introduced which were designed to tow horse
type carriages for passengers or freight (sometimes called "steam
drags") and these used an innovative axle design which would become
known as the De Dion tube, where the location and drive function of
the axle are separated. The company manufactured steam buses and
trucks until 1904. Trepardoux, staunchly supporting steam, resigned in
1894 as the company turned to internal combustion vehicles. The
steam car remained in production more or less unchanged for ten years
Internal combustion engines
De Dion-Bouton tricycle
De Dion-Bouton tricycle
De Dion-Bouton tricycle towing a passenger in a carriage
By 1889, de Dion was becoming convinced the future lay in the internal
combustion engine, and the company had built a ten-cylinder two-row
rotary. After Trépardoux resigned in 1894, the company became De
Dion, Bouton et Compagnie. For 1895, Bouton created a new 137 cc
(8.4 in3) one-cylinder engine with trembler coil ignition.
Proving troublesome at its designed speed of 900 rpm (throwing
bearings and running rough), when Bouton increased the revs, the
problems vanished. In trials, it achieved an unprecedented
3500 rpm, and was usually run at 2,000 rpm, a limit imposed
by its atmospheric valves and surface carburettor. Inlet and
exhaust valves were overhead, and a flywheel was fitted to each end of
This engine was fitted behind the rear axle of a tricycle frame bought
from Decauville, fitted with the new
Michelin pneumatic tires. It
showed superb performance, and went on the market in 1896 with the
engine enlarged to 1¼ CV (Horsepower) (932 W) 185 cc
(11.3 cu in), with 1¾ CV (1.3 kW) in 1897. By the time
production of the petite voiture tricar stopped in 1901, it had 2¾ CV
(2 kW), while racers had as much as 8 CV (6 kW).
In 1898, Louis
Renault had a
De Dion-Bouton modified with fixed drive
shaft and ring and pinion gear, making "perhaps the first hot rod in
1903 De Dion & Bouton 8 CV in the Museo Nazionale dell'Automobile,
The same year, the tricar was joined by a four-wheeler and in 1900 by
a vis a vis voiturette, the Model D, with its 3¾ CV (2.8 kW)
402 cc (24.5 cu in) single-cylinder engine under the
seat and drive to the rear wheels through a two-speed gearbox. This
curious design had the passenger facing the driver, who sat in the
rear seat. The voiturette had one inestimable advantage: the expanding
clutches of the gearbox were operated by a lever on the steering
column. The Model D was developed through Models E, G, I, and J, with
6 CV (4.5 kW) by 1902, when the 8 CV (6 kW) Model K
rear-entry phaeton appeared, with front-end styling resembling the
contemporary Renault. Until World War I, De Dion-Boutons had an
unusual decelerator pedal which reduced engine speed and ultimately
applied a transmission brake. In 1902, the Model O introduced three
speeds, which was standard for all De Dion-Boutons in 1904.
A small number of electric cars were also made in 1901.
Engine supplier to automobile manufacturers
De Dion-Bouton supplied engines to vehicle manufacturers such as
Société Parisienne who mounted a 2.5 hp unit directly on the front
axle of their front wheel drive voiturette the 'Viktoria Combination'.
Engine supplier to moto bicycle builders
De Dion-Bouton engine is considered to the first high-speed
lightweight internal combustion engine. It was licensed to more than
150 manufacturers and was a popular choice among assemblers of moto
bicycles. The small lightweight four cycle engine used a battery
and coil ignition that was less trouble than the hot tube ignition.
The bore of 50 mm (2.0 in) and stroke of 70 mm
(2.8 in) gave this engine an output of 1 kW (1.3 hp).
It was used on many pioneering moto bicycle brands and was widely
copied by many makers including US Brands Indian and
American De Dion
De Dion-Bouton made in the United States
In 1901, the
De Dion-Bouton Motorette Company began manufacturing De
Dion-Bouton automobiles under license in Brooklyn, New York. A
small quantity of American De Dion Motorettes were made. These had
either 2-seater vis-a-vis or closed coachwork and were powered by
3.5 hp American-made engines.
The venture was in operation for only one year. They gained a
reputation for unreliability during that time. Representatives of De
Dion in the United States claimed that the licensee violated their
contract and advertised for a new licensee.
De Dion-Bouton in 1905
De Dion-Bouton was the largest automobile manufacturer in the
world, producing 400 cars and 3,200 engines. The company
soon began producing engines and licenses for other automobile
companies with an estimate of 150 makes using them. Production was so
great, it proved impossible to test every engine; if it failed on the
bench, it was simply disassembled. Every engine was being made by
hand; the assembly line had not yet been introduced. By 1904 some
40,000 engines had been supplied across Europe. That year, De
Dion-Bouton's factory at Quai National (now Quai de Dion-Bouton),
Puteaux, employed 1,300 and produced more than 2,000 cars, all
The engine moved to the front in 1903 in the Populaire with 700 or
942 cc (42.7 or 57.5 cu in) engines, the latter being
powerful enough to allow trucks to be added to cars, and by the end of
the year reverse gear had also appeared. It was joined by the 6 CV
(4 kW) 864 cc (52.5 in3) Types N and Q (the latter a
low-priced K), the 8 CV (6 kW) R, and their first
multi-cylinder model, the two-cylinder 1728 cc (105 in3) 12
CV (8 kW) S, followed in 1904 by the four-cylinder 2,545 cc
(155.3 cu in) 15 CV (11 kW) Type AD and 24 CV
(18 kW) AI. The cars were also getting more and more
conventional in styling, with the radiator moving in front of the
engine and the clutch changing from hand lever to pedal.
A pair of works 10 CV (7.5 kW) De Dion-Boutons, in the hands of
Cormier and Collignon, ran in the 1907 Peking to
Paris rally, without
success. Bouvier St. Chaffray did no better in the New York to Paris
in 1908. That year,
De Dion-Bouton peaked as a manufacturer.
The company became the first to make a successful mass-produced V8
engine, a 35 CV (26 kW) 6,107 cc
(372.7 cu in) CJ in 1910, followed by a 7.8 liter and a 14.7
liter for the U.S., as well as by a 3,534 cc
(215.7 cu in) Type CN in 1912. (They trailed
Ader in racing
the 1906 Adams, which used an Antoinette aircraft engine.) This
would be the company's last innovation.
During World War I the company made gun parts, armoured vehicles, and
aircraft engines, as well as cars and trucks. The company produced an
anti-aircraft version of the French 75mm field gun, the Canon de 75
modèle 1897, mounted on a V8-powered
De Dion-Bouton truck for the
French Army between 1913 and 1918.
Dublin during the
Easter Rising of 1916, which opened the Irish War
The O'Rahilly drove his De Dion Bouton up to the
Irish HQ in O'Connell Street, and, discovering that the Rising he had
planned and trained soldiers for and then tried to prevent, was
actually going on, he drove it into a barricade, walked into the GPO
and said: "I've helped to wind the clock, I've come to hear it
strike." He was killed in a heroic charge against a machine gun nest
in Moore Street days later. A famous photograph shows the skeleton of
the car in its barricade. 
The company stagnated after World War I. The V8 continued to appear
until 1923, and in spite of new models with front-wheel brakes, the
factory closed for much of 1927. On reopening two models were listed,
the Type LA with a 1,982 cc (120.9 cu in) four-cylinder
overhead valve, aluminium-piston engine, and the Type LB with a
2,496 cc (152.3 cu in) straight-8. The latter was very
expensive and sales were few, despite growth to 3 litres
(180 cu in) in 1930. A rumored takeover by
Mercedes did not materialize, leading to the end of passenger car
production in 1932.
After World War II
Small numbers of commercial vehicles were made until 1950; the last
vehicles to carry the De Dion badge were licence-made Land Rovers in
the early 1950s. The company name was bought by a motorcycle maker in
De Dion-Bouton JM4 railcar
De Dion-Bouton OC1 and OC2 railcars (foreground)
De Dion-Bouton built railcars and railcar trailers used on many of the
metre gauge railways in
France and abroad. The first railcars were
produced in the early 1920s, with the Chemin de Fer des Côtes-du-Nord
receiving its first railcars in 1923.
^ Wise, p. 510.
^ a b c d e f Georgano, p. 27.
^ Georgano, p. 24 cap.
^ Wise, pp. 511–4 passim.
^ a b c d e f Wise, p. 511.
^ texte, Parti social français Auteur du (23 July 1894). "Le Petit
journal". [s.n.] Retrieved 4 January 2018 – via
^ a b c d e Wise, p. 512.
^ Yates, Brock. "10 Best Moguls", in Car and Driver, 1/88, p.47.
^ a b c d Wise, p. 513.
^ Owls Head Archived 2011-08-23 at the Wayback Machine., 1902 De
^  Hildebrand and Wolfmueller, Control and Dynamic Analysis of two
wheeled road vehicles.
^ a b Adolphus, David Traver (2012-02-22). "Hemmings Find of the Day
– Vis-a-Vis a Brooklyn". Hemmings Daily. American City Business
Journals. Archived from the original on 2010-10-06. Retrieved
2012-10-19. External link in work= (help)
^ Georgano, N. (2000). Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile.
London: HMSO. ISBN 1-57958-293-1.
^ a b c d e Wise, p. 514.
^ Wise, p. 513 cap.
The O'Rahilly - Cars". humphrysfamilytree.com. Retrieved 4 January
^ "Avoe". Retrieved 4 January 2018.
Georgano, G. N. (1990). Cars: Early and Vintage, 1886–1930. London:
Grange-Universal. (reprints AB Nordbok 1985 edition).
Wise, David Burgess (1974). "De Dion: The Aristocrat and the
Toymaker". In Ward, Ian, executive editor. The World of Automobiles.
5. London: Orbis Publishing. pp. 510–4. CS1 maint: Uses
editors parameter (link)
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