Thomas de Colmar – Biography, History and Inventions

Thomas de Colmar

Thomas de Colmar

Charles-Xavier Thomas, also known as de Colmar, was born on 5 May, 1785, at number 8 rue Rapp in the town of Colmar, the capital of the Alsace wine region. He was the son of Joseph-Antoine Thomas (1758-1831), a physician, and Françoise-Xavière Entzlen (Anselin) (1759-1817). Joseph-Antoine Thomas studied medicine in Freiburg and married on 12 November, 1781, in Rastatt (Baden) to Françoise-Xavier, a native of Carlsruhe, Baden-Württemberg.

The Thomas family, originally from Burgundy, moved to Guebwiller in the Alsace region during the 30 year war, around 1634. Sir Thomas, born on 8 February, 1758, in Guebwiller, after graduating from University of Freiburg in early 1780s, practiced medicine in Colmar and then at the Hospice in the town of Rouffach, where he died on 11 April 1831 (Françoise-Xavière also died in Rouffach on 1 May 1817). Joseph-Antoine was a member of Rouffach’s town counsel.

After finalizing his studies and after a quick passage through the administration of the French Regie, Charles-Xavier joined the French army during the 1809-1811 and 1813 campaigns in Portugal and Spain. He was Cashier General for supplies in Portugal and Spain in 1809, then General Manager of the supply store of the army’s headquarters in Seville in 1810. He was then General Manager of the supply store of all the armies located in Spain in 1813. When he arrived in Bayonne just after the defeat of Vitoria he was promoted to Inspector of Supply for the entire French army.

It was during his lengthy stay with the armies of Marchall Soult where he needed to perform a great deal of calculations, that he conceived the idea of the calculating device—arithmometer. This became even more important in his eyes when, in 1819, he founded Le Phénix insurance company (he was named General Manager for 15 years, but resigned next year, following a disagreement) and, later, the companies Soleil (Sun) and Aigle (Eagle), that became the number one insurance group in France at the beginning of the Second Empire. Thomas became one of founders of this industry in France (he introduced many innovations in this industry) and his business success in insurance later on will allow him to invest in such non-profitable enterprise, as the production of calculating machines. Thus this remarkable man remained in history best known for designing, patenting and manufacturing the first commercially successful mechanical calculator in the world

In early 1811 Charles-Xavier married in Seville to a young woman from one of the oldest and most renowned families of Andalusia— Francisca (Frasquita) Garcia de Ampudia Alvarez (25.11.1794-1874), who became his faithful companion for life and gave him seven sons and three daughters. Their first child, Joseph Thomas Alvarez (1811-1873), was born in Seville in December 1811. Later they will have Charlotte Marie (1813-1840), Antoine Auguste (b. 1815), Louis François (b. 1816), Nicolas Louis (1818-1881), Françoise Madeleine (1821-1905), Emmanuel Eugene (1827-1840), Henriette Leontine (1831-1876), and 2 two boys died in infancy.

Charles Thomas was a man of high stature, of infinite refinement in his entirety, behaved as a true gentleman and was one of the most handsome people of his time.

In his long life he was decorated with many orders—in 1821, Chevalier of the Legion d’Honor (for his invention of the Arithmometer); 1852, Knight of the Ordre de la Couronne de Chêne; 1852, Commander of the Ordre de Saint Grégoire le Grand; 1853, Croix de Chevalier du Sauveur; 1854, Knight of the Ordre des Saints Maurice et Lazare; 1857, Officier de la Légion d’honneur and others.

Thomas de Colmar died (of acute bladder disease) on 12 March, 1870, at the age of 84, in one of his properties in Paris, the Hôtel du 156 Boulevard Haussmann. The Sun King (as he was dubbed) left a huge fortune of over 24 million.


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