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Fonderie a Ruelle

The foundry at Ruelle, near Angouleme, became by the 1880s the principal if not the only establishment for the manufacture of the larger calibers designed for the navy and coast. That at Nevers was no longer used, most of its machinery having been transferred to Ruelle. Three circumstances contributed to the creation of Ruelle. First, the hydraulic power that is continually supplied by the river Touvre, whose waters neither dry up, overflow, nor freeze. Second, the proximity of special ores producing iron that possesses extreme resistance to the action of powder. Third, the not less useful neighborhood of forests that furnish in abundance the only fuel, charcoal, considered at that time admissible for metallurgy.

Whatever its origin, the river that provides Ruelle with its motive power has a force varying from 130 to 420 horse-power, according to the season. Before reaching the foundry, it contributes power to several paper-mills. Below the last one is a large dam, which divides the river into two branches, one, the discharge, passing around the works. Nine flood-gates, raised and lowered by means of racks and pinions, govern the volume of water that feeds the shops.

About the middle of the 18th century, the Marquis of Montalembert bought a paper-mill for a perpetual annual rental of .365. Upon this site he built a foundry for cast-iron. Authorized by patents of 1751, he obtained in 1752 a decree that allowed him to cut, for nine years, in the Bracoune forest, northeast of Ruelle, 4000 acres of wood.

In 1755, in the summary manner of the time, the Government seized the foundry, and for sixteen years the Marquis could not recover his property. In 1772, his proprietorship was admitted, but he was ordered to lease the works to the Government for a rental of ,20,000 per year and a bonus. Two years later, Count d'Artois bought the foundries of Ruelle and Forge-Neuve for ,300,000, the equipment and tools being valued at ,60,000. In 1776, the King took them from Count d'Artois and gave him in exchange three forests in Champagne. The foundry was administered by a Board of Directors, afterwards by contractors. The fabrication at that time was very simple. The fuel was charcoal from the Bracoune forests. The cannon were cast in earthen moulds, sometimes with a core, and often solid. The boring-machines were the invention of the Marquis of Montalembert.

But the time soon came when France was threatened by the navies of all Europe. Six thousand cannon were needed immediately, and the Committee of Public Safety proceeded to take measures to meet this demand. It divided into four departments the smelting furnaces and forges that could be utilized, and substituted for earth-moulds the more rapid sand process. Models of machines and tools were sent to the foundries, intelligent workmen were employed, and the experts Perrier, Haasenfratz, and Mouze published works upon the art of fabricating cannon. Ruelle was entirely renewed; other foundries were added, two reverberating furnaces were introduced, and new boring-machines replaced the former tools.

In 1803, the system was changed, and Ruelle absorbed the other departments. In 1823, reverberating furnaces were erected, which exist to-day. In 1840, the bronze foundry and the boring-shop at Rochefort were transferred to Ruelle, and in 1846 a chemical laboratory was added. From this date until the present time the modifications have been continual. While complete arrangements of furnaces, moulds and flasks for hollow and solid casting, appliances for internal cooling, and the ordinary implements for shrinking and assembling are still retained, to-day almost the entire establishment is under reconstruction to keep pace with the progress of manufacture and to meet the increasing demands for heavy steel cannon. The plant is scattered and consequently difficult and expensive to superintend ; but with the completion of the two new shops, this objection will be met. And while the hydraulic motive power is still excellent, steam will be employed.

At the 'Fonderie a Ruelle' all the constructive force of the marine artillery was concentrated, and here all the largest guns were made. It contains the most remarkable collection of tools of the age.

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