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Batignolles-Châtillon

Founded in 1846, the Société de Construction des Batignolles was, on the eve of the Great War, a famous metallic, mechanical and civil engineering firm because of its realizations in France and abroad. During the war, the firm turned over the manufacturing of arms and it produced masses of them. Thanks to this policy, the firm made big profits and began to organize an important group of affiliated companies.

In the Great War, heavy artillery on French railway by 1917 included a 370 mm gun on a Batignolles car. The prototype of Batignolles-Châtillon tank built in 1935 did not pass the tests. In 1954, the company built a prototype battle tank (the Batignolles-Châtillon 25T ) which was not adopted but some features will be included on the AMX-30. In 1955, a self-propelled gun project was characterized by the installation of a rotating turret. The construction of the prototype began in 1955. The running gear is similar to that of the M 47 then endowed in the French army. A turret with automatic recharging system was studied in 1958. Due to the abandonment of the project in December 1959, only a wooden model was made.

In 1846, thanks to the support of bankers who had founded the Northern Railway Company, a limited partnership under the name of Ernest Gouin et Cie, named after its founder, was installed in Batignolles, avenue de Clichy. It began as a mechanical construction workshop, primarily to supply steam locomotives to major rail companies.

Batignolles is a neighborhood of Paris, a part of the 17th arrondissement of the city. Batignolles district is known today for quirky shops and quaint bistros, as well as the English-style Square des Batignolles gardens. Trendy bars dot bohemian streets around. At one time Batignolles was a slow moving village outside the city of Paris. In recent years it has risen as one of the hippest areas in the city.

Exceeding very quickly its initial vocation, this company starts the construction of metal bridges in France, the first of which in 1852 that of Asnières, then of railway lines in the world (1862, crossing of the Pyrenees) and mainly in the colonial empire, finally in the realization of all kinds of public works.

Its rapid expansion led in 1871 to its transformation into a public limited company under the name of Société de construction des Batignolles, a name that it retained until its merger in 1968 with the Paris Society for the Electrical Industry (SPIE) to give birth to SPIE-Batignolles. In 1928, it definitively broke with her initial object by closing her workshops on the Avenue de Clichy, to which she contributed to her subsidiary, the General Company of Locomotive Construction Batignolles-Châtillon.

The name which this company added to its corporate name evoked that of two large and well-known metallurgical companies, on whose initiative it was incorporated in 1917: the Batignolles and Chatillon-Commentry-Neuves-Maisons Construction Company. These two companies had brought to it, against delivery of 1,700 shares of 500 francs, land located in Nantes, on which it built a large factory for the construction and repair of locomotives, and secondarily to the construction of metal structures. The factory, built quickly, began to operate in 1919. The registered capital was set at 18 million, and increased in 1918 to 23 million (46,000 shares of 500 francs).

The General Company of construction of locomotives (Batignolles-Châtillon) was constituted on May 26, 1917 following an agreement between the Construction Company of Batignolles, installed Avenue of Clichy in Paris and the Company of the forges of Châtillon-Commentry- new-homes. Edouard Gouin was the first president. Ernest Gouin, founder of the Clichy factory in 1846, is the son of a textile manufacturer and banker from Nantes. In order to diversify his activity, he looked for other markets: weaving machines, construction of iron bridges, shipbuilding. He bought the shipyard Louis Guibert on the island Gloriette.

The construction of the Édouard Gouin plant acquired the Saint-Georges estate north-east of Nantes in 1917. The site is ideal: in the countryside with possibilities of important extensions while being close to a big city, along the railway line. Castle Saint-Georges and its outbuildings are razed and market gardeners expropriated. In order to study new industrial methods, the Gouin brothers go to the United States and import the principles of mass production of large factories in the Northeast. The plant is designed by the Mercier and Limousin design office. François Mercier, an Allier contractor, specialized in the construction of railroad tracks and met the engineer Eugène Freyssinet, who applied the emerging techniques of prestressed concrete.

At first, it does not plan to house her own staff: the city of Nantes is close, a tram line serves the area. But the size of the plant quickly took on dimensions that were not originally planned. The Batignolles Nantes was recruiting throughout France, in much of Europe. Bretons, Austrians, Tourangeaux, Czechoslovaks, Parisians, Poles flocked to Saint Joseph de Porterie by the hundreds. In a few years, the plant's workforce had grown from 700 to 3000 people.

In 1920 building permits are granted by the City of Nantes, to build 450 houses grouped in three workers' cities: the Halveque, the Baratte, Ranzay. The cities will be composed of Bessonneau-type wooden working houses, adopted in the devastated areas, to allow, in view of the shortage of housing, to accommodate in the shortest possible time some of the workers needed by the Compagnie Générale de Construction de Locomotives in order to develop the output of its factories. At first, houses do not have running water: the city is fed by standpipes, planted at the street corners, which distribute the water of the city. Later, the inhabitants themselves will equip their homes with materials recovered more or less illegally at the factory. No WC interiors either; 4-compartment toilets with 8 m3 watertight pits are installed at the strategic points of the cities. Rudimentary as they were, the Bessonneau houses were a real paradise for their inhabitants; many were housed, previously, in very bad conditions.

But, when peace came back, Batignolles had to cope with difficulties. In spite of work possibilities offered by Reconstruction, the S.C.B., gave priority to its mechanical department which produced notably locomotives for railway companies. At that time the condition of our rolling stock, reduced and decayed by the war, required a great effort. The company was therefore assured of large orders as soon as it was in working order.

But its nascent prosperity was halted by the financial difficulties of the time, the depreciation of the franc and the rise in wages that ensued, while the companies working for the railways were bound by long-term contracts. The company then suffered heavy losses which forced it to a financial reorganization. Orders were decreasing and production costs were high because of obsolete equipment and way of manufacturing so that the firm had to close its workshops in 1926 and to be reconverted to civil engineering. But the market of civil works was highly depressed between the two wars. A first diversification was introduced in 1928 during the closure of the Paris plant and the transfer of the construction of artillery equipment, projectiles, torpedo tubes, cranes and dredges on Nantes.

In order to compensate for the lack of outlets in France, the S.C.B. looked for work in French colonies and abroad, particulary in Southern and Eastern Europe. With regard to internal factors, the increas of social expenses, especially during the 1920s, the equipment not being sufficiently replaced and lack of money were clearly against the firm. In these rough conditions, managers were not always up to industrial and technical challenges against which the firm came up.

The early death of Gaston Goüin in 1921 deprived Batignolles of a chairman of great ability. When external managers had tried to redress the firm during the second half of the 1920s, the Goüin family which was in possession of half of the firm's money between the two wars, got control of the firm again.

The capital was reduced in 1929 from 23 million francs to 4,600,000 francs by the reduction of the nominal value of the shares from 500 francs to 100 francs, and then increased to 20 millions. In compensation, the former shareholders received 23,000 bonus shares (one for two shares, 27,000 other identical shares being given to the group that subscribed the new capital).

Though the firm had tried to find new ways of marketing and choosing its financial and industrial partners, it was surpassed by the most important French civil engineering firms. Favoring the immediate financial yield, the managers neglected self-financing and got the firm into debt which jeopardized its development for a long time.

In 1934, the company was interested in the sector of the machine-tool by taking again the manufactures of towers of Establishments Henri Ernault (production then relocated to Cholet). The society found a prosperity which was confirmed until the war. If the results it obtained were satisfactory, despite the slowing down of the orders of the railways, in spite of the general crisis which raged from 1930 to 1938, it is because it was anxious to diversify its fabrications with the support of the two founding companies.

The Nantes plant was adapted to the production of equipment for national defense, machine tools, diesel engines, foundry molding machines, pumps, etc. A subsidiary, the company Ernault-Batignolles, was created, in agreement with the company H. Ernault, for the construction and manufacture of small towers in Paris. The machine tool branch had to be completed during the occupation by the creation of a new factory in Cholet. The locomotive branch, which in 1930 represented more than 90 per cent. Of the turnover, was no more on the eve of the war than 66 percent. In this way, it was able to overcome the difficulties caused by the new devaluations of the franc in 1936-1938.

The post-war years opened up new opportunities for railway traction with the restart of the French railways and the electrification program of the SNCF. But not to depend solely on this customer in a monopoly position, the company seeks to export (mainly to Morocco and Brazil) and extends its manufacturing to the diesel engine that gradually replaces the steam where the lines are not electrified (redemption of the Société des locomotives et locotracteurs Diesel 1951-1954). However, the Nantes plant lives mainly from its equipment manufacturing for oil refineries and the paper industry (air coolers), artillery equipment, "Pacific" pumps and trolleys "Armax-Batignolles" whose trademark is filed in 1951. In 1952, the company abandons any reference to the construction of locomotives, becomes the company Batignolles-Châtillon but from 1957 the holding company Batignolles-Châtillon is dissolved as a result of the merger made to the forges and workshops of Le Creusot.

In 1984 a bankruptcy filing caused the break-up of the NANTES plant in three groups, with the following activities: WORTHINGTON (GB) who owns the pumps; ROCKWELL (USA) printing equipment; GEA (GERMANY) Air Coolers and Heat Exchangers.

In 1985 GEA acquired the plant and creates Batignolles Technologies Thermiques SA. In 1999 GEA was absorbed by the German group METALLGESELLSCHAFT (MG). In 2010, GEA BTT built a new workshop at its historic site in Nantes, and inaugurated its new administrative headquarters. BTT manufactures two types of appliances; Air Coolers and Condensers. In 2011, GEA Batignolles Thermal Technologies is the world leader in the dry cooler market with its 3 factories: Nantes in France, Changshu in China and Doha in Qatar. The market in which BTT has developed is 95% for foreign countries.




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