The History of the Régnier Dynamometer

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By David Horne and Elizabeth Talbot*



The dynamometer as it stands in the Paris
Musée de l’Armée
he Régnier dynamometer, invented and built by Edme Régnier (1751 – 1825), was brought to prominence in the world of physical culture in the early 20th century by Professor Edmond Desbonnet. It is easy to forget the life of the dynamometer before Desbonnet reintroduced it to strongman society. It was in the early 1780s that Régnier was encouraged to begin the designs for his apparatus by Buffon and Guéneau, of Montbelliard, both naturalists, who desired that he devise a manner by which a man’s strength would be rendered comparable to that of another. They wished to test the relative abilities of men of different ages and in varying states of health through the use of a simple, portable and precise machine. A few years previously, Graham and Leroy, both well known to Buffon and Gueneau, had invented their own machines, but these were deemed unsatisfactory: too big, and too specific.1 Leroy’s apparatus, for example, was only capable of testing the strength of an individual finger or hand, not each individual limb as was required. It consisted of a metal tube, ten to twelve inches long, which stood on a base. Inside the tube was a spring and surmounting this, a rod with a scale, which was graded for difficulty. At the top of this rod was a small globe, which could be pressed with a finger or hand, and the strength was indicated by the level that could be read on the scale. 2 They lacked the versatility that Régnier later achieved: one piece of equipment with which the strength of a single finger, a hand, a limb or the whole body could be tested. There were many attempts made before they were finally satisfied with Régnier’s design. All of these failures, however, resulted in the design for the perfect dynamometer, which could easily compare the progress of strength from infancy right through to death.2  

The date given for the manufacture of the dynamometer is late 1790s, and this leads one to wonder at the lapse of time in between the date of commission in the early 1780s and the final production. Régnier’s studies were in fact interrupted in the later 1780s by the deaths of both Guéneau and Buffon (1785 and 1788  respectively), who died during the French Revolution (during this time, Régnier himself became inspector of the manufacture of portable arm
   Measuring lower backs trength1
s). It was not until 1796 until Régnier was encouraged to resume his work by the physician Coulomb, who recommended that in view of the developing industry and the redressing of the national economy, Régnier should continue his experiments with his invention.1
It was imperative that the dynamometer could also scale very high poundages and have useful applications. For example it was to be used for testing the strength of bridled work animals, but particularly for testing and comparing the strengths of horses. It was also used for determining the efficiency of a carriage with well-mounted and well-made wheels, and appreciating the resistance of a loaded carriage according to the slope of a hill. It determined the relative aid that additional horses would give when pulling a carriage. In addition to this Régnier’s machine is capable of testing the strengths of motors, weighing loads, measuring the recoil of large firearms and consequently the force  of the missile.  Unfortunately,
the death of Régnier’s overseers resulted in the use of the dynamometer being restricted to the amusement of young people, who disputed the superiority of their strength. As such, its full capability was never disclosed, and only one aspect of the dynamometer was fully  exploited: the precision of both scale and instrument  allowed  the accuracy of recording that the instigators had desired.2  

  The dynamometer is also impressive to observe: an elliptical spring, which serves as the frame of the apparatus, covered with leather (so as to prevent the hands from injury) and forged of tempered steel. Surmounting this is an engraved brass double scale shaped almost like an open fan. One scale shows results in myriagrams and the other in kilograms. A needle, made of steel, is affixed to the centre of the scale, with two arrows for accuracy of measurement on both scales. The first scale, in myriagrams (one of which equals just over 20lbs.), which rises by 10lbs per mark, was used for any experiment that required the dynamometer to be elongated, such as testing the strength of the lower back: in fact, any movement that caused the two ‘elbows’ of the ellipse to be pulled apart. The second scale was intended to be used when both ends of the ellipse were being squeezed together, such as when testing the strength of the hands. There is a small plaque of brass, which covers the mechanism and protects it from damage when being transported, and this piece also allows the easy removal of the needle, should it be necessary. The entire object is 12 inches (32 centimetres) long. With it was supplied an iron stand, with hooks fashioned into the vertical height onto which the dynamometer would be secured.

The dynamometer as used for testing strength of beasts

The person using the apparatus would then place his feet on the base of the stand and a wooden double handle, attached to the machine using an iron hook, would be held in both hands and the dynamometer thus employed to test the strength of the back. Along with this is an iron hook in an ‘s’ shape, which would link the dynamometer and a sturdy post set in the ground together, in order to ascertain the strength of a horse pulling against the machine.2
Leopold Gasseau pictured with Régnier and Collins dynamometers and various other grippers from his collection 3
The first documented usage of Régnier’s Dynamometer is found in a study undertaken by François Péron, from which he concluded that Tasmanians, Australians and Timorese were of much weaker physical strength than the English or French. Péron’s study, entitled ‘Old and Modern Views in Anthropology and Ecology’ was carried out between the years 1800 and 1804. On the 19th October 1800, he embarked for  Australasian soil aboard Le Géographique and from the time when he landed, he persevered with the writing of a diary. In February 1802, Péron reported that his bad experiences with the savages had tired him, and he was now
 Gasseau with Régnier dynamometer 3
resolved to terminate his perilous encounter with these peoples, but that he must, at any price, repeat and confirm his observations already taken regarding their physical strength. Upon meeting with the natives, Péron remarked that the wild men were fascinated with the instrument and all wanted to touch it at once. After they had all gained some conception of the workings and purpose of the instrument, seven men volunteered themselves to try it, and one of these stepped forward to be the first. According to Péron, the man’s attempts moved the needle no further than Péron’s own, and he was so indignant at his own inability that he approached Péron, angrily seized his cuff and demanded that he demonstrate his ability on the spot. Péron’s report states that he managed to do this, albeit after several attempts, but was at the end of his strength in so doing. The native’s attitude, apparently, was altered from that of anger to one more of confusion. Péron’s account leads one to wonder at the credence in his claim that his discoveries proved the weakness of  indigenous  Australasians:  an uneducated man, unfamiliar with the apparatus, matched, on his first attempt, the achievement of Péron himself, who had only gained his result after many efforts. This was, however, proof enough that the French, a civilised society, were stronger than a native one.1 The motivation given to the ‘savages’ was also frequently questioned in later studies: indeed, what incentive could a Timorese or Tasmanian in the early nineteenth century find, to demonstrate his physical abilities to white men who had repeatedly exploited them for their manual labour?3
Apollon with the Régnier dynamometer  4

Desbonnet had taken Maspoli to a weightlifting competition in London in 1902  when he met James Pedley, Chief Instructor at  the Sandow School in London. He remarked That Pedley had terrific hand strength.confirm  this, it is also recorded that Pedley  could take a 200lb. dumbbell by the nuts at each end in his fingers and thumbs, and clean  and press it. Upon meeting him, Desbonnet entreated Pedley to try Régnier’s dynamometer. He broke Batta’s record by 11 kilos, achieving 132kg. When Desbonnet was recounting this tale to Apollon back in France, Apollon initially showed little interest. He was reluctant to attempt what he termed another of Desbonnet’s  ‘little gadgets,’ but Desbonnet was determined  to coerce Apollon into testing his strength. He told Apollon that Batta’s record had been lost to an Englishman at the peak of his strength, and Batta had no hope of regaining it. Another record was lost
to the French. What made it worse, he added, was that there was not a single man in  France who could recover the record. Desbonnet also commented that Batta had said of Apollon that he would not want to try the dynamometer for fear of doing poorly.  Convinced that he must prove himself, and swayed by Desbonnet’s less-than-subtle provocation, Apollon casually took hold of the dynamometer and achieved 153kg on his first and only attempt, breaking the record by 21 kilos. He handed it back to Desbonnet, declaring that it had hurt his hands, and he would not try any more of his gadgets again.
In Desbonnet’s opinion, had Apollon tried the dynamometer again, he would have attained 170 to 180kg.
4   Other dynamometers followed the Régnier, which were similar in style and usage. Amongst t
 James Pedley 5
hese were George Tiemann’s dynamometer from the 1800s and the Marine Compass Company’s apparatus from c. 1910. Three of Régnier’s dynamometers have been located, the first in Urbino University in Italy and the second in the Physics Laboratory of the Tuscany Technical Institute. The third is still located in Paris, in the Musée de l’Armée. 


References for illustrations:

1. Gradhiva, #1, Autumn 1989. ‘Note sur le dynamomètre de Régnier’ par Jean Jamin, p.17-21
2. Mémoires Explicatifs du Dynamomètre et autres machines inventées par le C.en Régnier, etc.
3. La Culture Physique, 1 June 1909, p.377 & 15 August 1909, p.548
4. Les Rois de Force, Desbonnet, 1911, p.445
5. The Bodybuilder, Jan 1953, ‘Jim Pedley,’ by W. A. Pullum, p.9
6. La Force Physique, Desbonnet, 1913, fig. 49

                                                                                        Régnier’s dynamometer in 
                                                                                              Urbino University, Italy

*Acknowledgment: We would like to thank David Horne and Elizabeth Talbot, Editors of "IronGrip Magazine" for allowing us to use figures and materials originally published in their Magazine


Professor Edmond Desbonnet, the famous French physical culturist, tested many of his pupils using

    Prof E. Desbonnet 6
Régnier’sdynamometer, in order to record their progress over time and compare their results. Most importantly, Desbonnet used the dynamometer to test the famous and lesser-known professional and amateur strongmen and wrestlers of the day. This testing mainly took place at his physical culture schools, such asl’Halterophile Club de France (the H. F. C., or the  Weightlifting Club of France). The recorded results are charted below 

en Régnier, etc. By Edmeth, 1949. Jim Pedley, by Edward Aston.


AMATEURS Poundage in position


Poundage in

position libre Comments

Leon Dumont 100kg At Desbonnet's physical culture

school in Lille

Gustave Empain 118kg Le Champion Belge at H F C

Leopold Gasseau 127kg 1909

Leon See 128kg 1901

Leopold Gasseau 135kg 1914 June 18

Emile Maupas 160.5kg September 15th 1904

Leopold Gasseau 189kg

Gustave Empain 176kg Le Champion Belge at H F C

PROFESSIONALS Poundage in position


Poundage in

position libre Comments

Charles Vansart 153kg

Emile Deriaz 169.5kg

Gabrial Lassartesse 172.5kg

Jacques Roumageon 177.5kg 26 July 1902, took previous record

of Deriaz

Antoine Serole 178kg 1903 - Bettered Roumageon's


Jacques Roumageon 194.5kg, 206.25kg 28 December 1904, Roumageon

beat record

Antoine Serole 201.25kg,

then 224kg

Emile Deriaz 236kg 26 July 1904, beat record

Jacques Roumageon 120kg 1908

'Batta' Charles Estienne 121kg

Stanislaus Zbysko 125kg At l'Halterophile Club de France


James Pedley 132kg London 1902

Pierre Bonness 132kg 1903

'Apollon' Louis Uni 153kg May 12th 1902



1. Gradhiva, No. 1, autumn 1986. Notes sur le dynamomètre de Régnier, by Jean Jamin.
2. Mémoires Explicatifs du Dynamomètre et autres machines inventées par le C. Regnier, 1798
3. Perspectives in Human Biology, reviewed by C. Loring Brace. Is Human Evolution a Closed Chapter? Vol. 4, Issue 1, 1999
4. Les Rois de la Force by Prof. Edmond Desbonnet, 1911
5. Health and Strength, August 11

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