Musée des Arts et Métiers

This “Museum of Arts and Occupations” in Paris shows the history of technology from the eighteenth century to the present day. The word Arts in the name refers not to painting or sculpture, but to the skill of an artisan, technician or engineer.

Foucault’s pendulum, which demonstrates the rotation of the earth, was first exhibited in Paris in the 1850s. For many years, one of his original pendulums was swinging in the church “Saint Martin des Champs” at the entrance to the Musée des Arts et Métiers, but in 2010 the cable snapped and the pendulum fell to the floor and was damaged beyond repair. Now apparently a copy is swinging there, hanging from a new cable.

The Musée des Arts et Métiers was thoroughly renovated and re-arranged in the 1990s, so if you only know it from earlier times you might want to go back now for another look. 

Exhibits in the museum

To start your tour the museum you take an elevator up to the top (second) floor to the exhibits of measuring devices, such as these from the eighteenth century. There are also exhibits on things like the art of printing, the art of bridge-building and the generation of electricity using dynamos from various decades.

Historical typewriters

Here’s a selection of historical typewriters from various epochs, and the last one is not so terribly different from the one I used in college. As I have explained in my Cutting edge technology post for the benefit of the younger generations, these machines “had a keyboard like a computer, but the keys were attached (yes, physically attached) to metal rods that banged metal keys against an ink ribbon in front of a piece of paper. Your text appeared immediately on the paper. If you made a mistake there were various options, but often the only way was to put in a new sheet of paper and type it all again.”

Phonographs and film projectors

Here’s a selection of historical phonographs and movie projectors. We had an 8-mm film projector at home when I was a child, but it was really sleek and modern compared to these.

Old telephones and a hand-operated switchboard

On the left are typical telephones from the 1920s and 1940s, with the round finger-operated dial that remained common until well into the 1990s. This kind of dial used to drive us crazy at work when we had to call up a list of, say, forty-five people. If somebody wasn’t home or the line was busy, there was no way to save the number so you had to dial it all over again and wait for it to go click-click-click after each digit. (Or click-click-click-click-click-click-click-click-click-click each time you had to dial a 0.)

On the right is an early hand-operated telephone switchboard, from the late nineteenth century. It looks very similar to the field switchboard that I sometimes operated on the night shift at the zone headquarters in Phuoc Vinh when I was an American soldier in Vietnam in the 1960s.

19th century vélocipèdes and a first-generation Vélib’ bike

Cyclist on Rue Réaumur, just outside the museum

Of course the museum also deals with the development of that brilliant invention, the bicycle, or vélocipède as it was called in the nineteenth century. But it’s not all ancient history. The museum also displays an authentic first-generation Vélib’ bike, complete with a docking stand and a computer terminal, just like the ones that were installed all over Paris from 2007 to 2017. In fact there was a first-generation Vélib’ station (number 3011) right outside the museum at 55 Rue Turbigo.

From October 2017 to March 2018, these original Vélib’ bikes are being replaced by a new model and a new system, to be administered by a new company (Smoovengo instead of JCDecaux) but still to be called Vélib’.


Musée des Arts et Métiers, 60 rue Réaumur, 75003 Paris
GPS  48°51’57.53″ North;  2°21’19.59″ East
Location, aerial view and photo on

My photos in this post are from 2008. I revised the text in 2017.

7 thoughts on “Musée des Arts et Métiers”

  1. We have a Foucault’s pendulum at the Griffith Park Observatory in Los Angeles. It always fascinated me as a child watching it go back and forth. I never had the patience to see it knock down one of the pins!

  2. I think there’s a metro station called “Musée des Arts et Métiers”. We did go there and I think it was free entry or they charged a nominal amount to go in. It was quite extraordinary to see. Thanks for sharing Don.

    1. I think the Metro station is just called “Arts et Métiers”. I’ve never used it (at least I don’t recognize it from the photos) though I have often borrowed and docked Vélib’ bikes from the station by the museum.

  3. As a child I was always fascinated by the Foucault’s pendulum in the Science Museum in London – I would watch for ages in the hopes of being the person who spotted that it was slowing down or even stopping, which of course it never did 😉

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