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Louis Renault

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Louis Renault (February 12, 1877, Paris, France – October 24, 1944) was a French industrialist, one of the founders of Renault and one of the foremost pioneers of the automobile industry.

Early life and career

The fourth of five children born into a Paris bourgeois family, Renault attended Lycée Condorcet.<ref name= "helium.com">Template:Citation/core{{#if:|}}</ref> He was fascinated by engineering and mechanics from a very early age, and spent many hours in the Serpollet steam car workshop or tinkering with old Panhard engines in the tool shed of the family's second home in Billancourt.

He built his first car in 1898, hiring a pair of workmen to modify a used 3⁄4 hp (560 W)<ref>Yates, Brock. "10 Best Moguls", in Car and Driver, 1/88, p.47.</ref> De Dion-Bouton cycle which featured a revolutionary universally jointed driveshaft<ref>Yates, p.47.</ref> and a three speed gearbox with reverse, with the third gear in direct drive (which he patented a year later). Renault called his car the Voiturette. On December 24, 1898, he won a bet with his friends that his invention was capable of driving up the slope of Lepic street in Montmartre. As well as winning the bet, Renault received 13 definite orders for the vehicle. Seeing the commercial potential in his ingenuity, he teamed up with his two older brothers, Marcel and Fernand, who had business experience from working in their father's textiles firm. They formed the Renault Frères company on February 25, 1899. Initially, business and administration was handled entirely by the elder brothers, with Louis dedicating himself to design and manufacturing. However, in 1908 he took overall control of the company after Fernand retired for health reasons. (Marcel had been killed in the 1903 Paris-Madrid motor race.)

World War I, interwar period and developments

Renault remained in complete control of his company until 1942, dealing with its rapid expansion while designing several new inventions<ref name="invent.org">Template:Citation/core{{#if:|}}</ref>, most of which are still in use today, such as hydraulic shock absorbers, the modern drum brake, compressed gas ignition, the turbocharger, and the taximeter.

He was decorated with the Legion of Honor after the First World War for the success of his military designs, most famously including the revolutionary Renault FT-17 tank.

During the interwar period, his right-wing opinions were well known, while his employees at Boulogne Billancourt were in the proletarian avant-garde, leading to various cases of labour unrest. He pleaded for a necessary union between European nations.

In addition, he competed fiercely with André Citroën, who he called "le petit Juif" ("the little Jew"),<ref>Yates, p.47.</ref> growing increasingly paranoid and reclusive, deeply concerned about the rising power of Communism and labor unions, eventually retreating to his home, a castle 8 mi (13 km) off Mont-Saint-Michel.<ref>Yates, p.47.</ref>

World War II and aftermath

In 1939, Renault was again one of the most important suppliers for French army until the fall of France in 1940.

During the Nazi occupation of France in the Second World War, the Renault company was put under the total control of the Germans,<ref name="invent.org"/> and people from Daimler-Benz were put in key positions. Renault, like thousands of others, actively aided the Nazis.<ref>Yates, p.47.</ref> The company production was insignificant, however, less than 1/3 of what it had been in the sole month of May 1939, partially due to his attempts to delay production; though despite this, Renault became unpopular among members of the French resistance.<ref name="helium.com"/> After an Allied air raid destroyed his plant in March 1942, Louis came down with aphasia, and could neither speak nor write.

After France was liberated in 1944, he was arrested under charges of industrial collaboration with Nazi Germany;<ref name="invent.org"/> he died a month later, and claimed to have been mistreated in Fresnes Prison. A traumatic brain injury and a severe uremia] were observed. No inquiry was made.

Three months later, Renault was nationalized, on the official and very thin case of collaboration. This was most remarkable, for this condemnation was without judgment, and applied to an already dead person, in violation to rule of law and all French juridical principles. The actual director of the plant during the war succeeded in 1949 to obtain a judgement stating that he and the plant actually had not collaborated, and in 1967 Louis' only heir, his son Jean-Louis Renault, obtained some indemnity. Louis, however, was never officially rehabilitated.

See Also

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