The automobile was invented in Germany, but the French pioneered its use and development as a social icon. One person behind both phenomena was Albert, marquis de Dion.
The visionary industrialist, together with his engineering partner Georges Bouton, began producing self-propelled steam vehicles in 1882. Their company patented a light rear axle, which was named after de Dion, to improve the ride of the vehicles.
A patent for a high-speed single-cylinder gasoline engine was filed in 1890; production started five years later.
The engine would power much more than just de Dion's vehicles. De Dion and Bouton sold licenses to build the system, as well as thousands of complete engines, to 150 different carmakers and motorcycle manufacturers.
By 1900, De Dion-Bouton was the world's largest carmaker with an annual production of 400 cars and 3,200 engines.
The backbone of the company's model range was a simple single-cylinder car, the 1899 petite voiture, the world's first series-production small car.
De Dion-Bouton provided a surprise in 1910 when it introduced the impressive 35hp series-production V-8 engine, the first of its kind.
De Dion also was a champion for the auto industry. He founded the first automobile club in 1895 and organized the world's first auto show in Paris in 1898.
In addition, he looked for ways to transfer automotive applications to commercial vehicles and public transportation.
Not satisfied, de Dion also produced road maps, developed military equipment and was an aviation pioneer.
De Dion lost his motivation as an innovator and pioneer after World War I. In 1932 he withdrew from his company, which had stopped making cars.