Béthencourt y Molina, Augustine

Béthencourt y Molina, Augustine

 

Born Feb. 1, 1758, in Puerto-de-la-Luz, Canary Islands; died July 14 (26), 1824, in St. Petersburg. Mechanical engineer and builder; corresponding member of the French Academy of Sciences (1809). A Spaniard by birth.

In 1781, Béthencourt graduated from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts at San Fernando (Madrid). His great ability and talent for invention appeared even during his student years. He improved the technology of silk-spinning and weaving of silk cloth. In 1798, Béthencourt directed the construction of the first visual telegraph in Spain between Madrid and Cadiz. In 1800, he became inspector general of the communications corps which he created and of all roads and bridges in Spain; in 1803 he became chief commissary officer of the army. He left Spain for political reasons in 1807.

In 1808 he was offered employment by the Russian government and enrolled in the army with the rank of major general. In 1816, Béthencourt headed the committee on buildings and water works in St. Petersburg. In 1819 he became director of communications in Russia.

Many important works were carried out in Russia under Béthencourt’s direction: the equipment of the Tula gun factory with an installation of steam engines built according to his design; the construction in Kazan’ of a new foundry for cannon; the reequipment of the Aleksandrov Factory; the deepening of the port at Kronstadt and the construction of a canal between the Izhorsk Plant and St. Petersburg which utilized the steam-dredging machine that he invented in 1810.

From his plans and under his immediate supervision the buildings for the dispatch office for preparing state papers in St. Petersburg (now the State Authority of State Badges, Coins, and Medals) and for the Moscow Riding School, which were roofed with wooden trusses of an unusually large span (45 m), were constructed. (The services of architect O. I. Bove were enlisted for the architectural treatment of individual details of the buildings.) In 1820, the arcades on the grounds of the Nizhegorod Fair were constructed in accord with Béthencourt’s plans.

During 1818–22, Béthencourt was involved in the construction of Russia’s first major highway between St. Petersburg, Novgorod, and Moscow. He contributed to the improvement of Russia’s internal navigation systems and promoted the spread of engineering education. Through his initiative the Institute of Communications was founded in St. Petersburg in 1810, which he directed to the end of his life.

I. Z. MITTEL’MAN

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