Philippe de Girard

Philippe Henri de Girard (February 1, 1775–1845), was a French engineer and inventor of the first flax spinning frame in 1810, as well as the name-sake for the town of Żyrardów in Poland.

Girard was born in the village of Lourmarin in the "département" of Vaucluse, France, to a wealthy aristocratic family. As a child he was sent by his parents to some of the most notable French schools of the era. However, in the effect of the French Revolution, his family was forced to flee France and young Philippe had to abandon his studies in order to help his family earn money for living.

In 1810 the French government organised a competition for inventors, in which it offered 1 million francs to any inventor who could devise the best machinery for the spinning of flax yarn. After only a short period Philippe de Girard took out a French patent for important inventions for both dry and wet methods of spinning flax. He was not awarded the prize money and failed to gain the recognition he felt was deserved. So he accepted, when in 1815 he was invited by the Austrian government to establish a spinning mill in Hirtenberg near Vienna, which employed his spinning frames, however it failed to prove a commercial success.

In 1817 Girard returned to France with a prototype ready, but the internal situation of France after the fall of Napoleon Bonaparte prevented the new French authorities from payment of the debts and eventually Girard sold his patent to England. However, several years afterwards the situation in France improved and Girard started the first modern textile factory in Lille. Initially the business was a failure and Girard almost went bankrupt.

In 1825 he was hired by the government of the Kingdom of Poland to develop the Polish textile industry. He became the expert of the Polish government, as well as the Bank of Poland. Because of financial support of the latter, in 1831 he organised the first major factory of his project in Marymont near Warsaw. Two years later he moved with his business to the village of Ruda Guzowska, where the factory had better perspectives. Soon it became a great success and brought fame and prosperity both to the settlement and to Girard. In honour of Girard, Ruda Guzowska was renamed to Żyrardów, a toponym derived of the polonised spelling of Girard's name.

In 1844 Girard returned to France, where he planned to open more factories. However, he died the following year. Apart from the town of Żyrardów (currently one of the biggest suburbs of Warsaw), Girard became a name-sake for a street and a college in XVIIIe arrondissement of Paris and two lycea in Żyrardów and Avignon.


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