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A Short Bright Flash: Augustin Fresnel and the Birth of the Modern Lighthouse


According to the writings of Augustin Henry’s sons, Fresnel and Augustin Henry met during the opening of the new breakwater constructed in the harbor of Dunkerque in 1824, where Henry had just installed a new bell tower. Fresnel explained the problems with the escapement clock drive to Augustin Henry. Within a few months Monsieur Henry created a new clock mechanism that, while preserving the main workings of his clocks, was supplied with a regulator based on centrifugal force. This was the kind used by James Watt for steam engines; it allowed the clock to maintain a continuous rotation with sufficiently regular speed for the needs of the lighthouses.

After the death of Augustin Fresnel in 1827, Leonor Fresnel asked Augustin Henry to undertake a survey of the manufacture of lighthouse optics. It was through this survey that Augustin Henry became interested in the construction of Fresnel lenses in addition to the clockworks used to rotate them in lighthouses. The Henry lens factory was a founded in 1838 and built next to the old Lepaute clockwork manufacturing buildings.


Fresnel | Definition of Fresnel by Merriam-Webster