Life in the fast lane André Citroën is without doubt one of the great figures of the early 20th century. A visionary with a gift for innovation, this bold, intuitive man was ahead of his time. Endowed with extraordinary communication skills and a taste for action and adventure, he took part in - and even initiated - the main social, economic, technological and cultural movements of his day.
By the end of the 1920s, this leader of industry had built up an impressive empire. André Citroën invented the business of selling cars, with after-sales and a host of other services.
Son of Lévie Citroen, a Dutch diamond merchant, and Macha Kleinan, a Pole, André Gustave Citroen is born on 5 February 1878 in Paris.
André Gustave's father dies when he is six, and he is brought up by his mother, who takes over the diamond and pearl business.
On 1 October 1885 he enters Concordet high school; a dieresis is added to the "e" of his surname.
He is ten when he encounters - and falls in love with - the writing of Jules Verne. Throughout his life, he will be inspired by the underlying philosophy of these works: an inquisitive mind, a competitive spirit, the wonders of science, and the constant pursuit of progress.
The building of the Eiffel Tower for the World Exhibition in 1889 is the young man's second formative experience. He sets his heart on becoming an engineer.
In 1898 , at the age of 20, he enrols at the prestigious Ecole Polytechnique. When he graduates in 1900, he is aware that the 20th century will be an era of industrial challenges. And he has a mind to tackle one or two of themÖ
André Citroën is a man of remarkable intuition. On a trip to Poland at the age of 22, he stumbles on a gear-cutting process based on a chevron design, which will later become the logo of his company. Realizing that the process could open new possibilities if used with steel, he buys the patent. Thus starts one of the greatest industrial adventures of modern times.
There is no time like the present. André Citroën is a man who is impatient by nature. In 1902, he invests all he has in his Polish discovery: the double chevrons. In 1906 , he is appointed managing director of Automobiles Mors, a company that made its name by beating a number of speed records at the turn of the century. André Citroën reorganizes the workshops and becomes involved in the design of the new models. In ten years, he doubles Mors's annual production.
In 1912 , the Engrenages Citroën-Hinstin partnership changes its name to Société Anonyme des Engrenages Citroën, a limited company, and moves to 31 Quai de Grenelle in Paris.
At the same time, André Citroën becomes Chairman of the Automobile Employers' Federation. That same year he makes a trip to the United States, where he visits Henry Ford's factories, taking careful note of the way the workshops are organized.
On 27 May 1914 , he marries Georgina Bingen, the daughter of a Genoese banker.
Two months later, war breaks out. André is named captain of the 2nd heavy artillery regiment of the 4th Army. Observing the shortage of shells, André Citroën goes to the Ministry of War and offers to set up a factory capable of manufacturing between 5,000 and 10,000 shrapnel shells per day in the space of three to four months. He opens an ultra-modern factory on a 15-hectare site in the area of Javel and applies Frederick Taylor's production methods. By 11 November 1918, the Citroën factory has produced more than 24 million shells.
The government frequently calls upon André Citroën, who is greatly appreciated for his remarkable leadership and organizational skills. In 1917, he reorganizes supplies to munitions plants and sets up a military postal service. In 1918, he organizes the distribution of bread ration cards across the whole Paris area in the space of just twenty-four hours.
After the war, the Javel factory is reconverted to automotive production. The single model manufactured by the plant will be mass-produced - a first in Europe - to reduce the price and bring it within reach of as many people as possible. A model of organization, the factory is equipped with a range of innovative employee facilities.
And yet, other than his factories, André Citroën has nothing to his name. He rents his flat, just as he rents the villa les Abeilles for holidays in Deauville from 1923. He has no personal interest in money; it is merely a means to an end.
By the early thirties, he has achieved most of his dreams of industrial success, but the Depression strikes. By 1934 , he is finding it difficult to meet his financial commitments and the banks refuse to provide more money. The Michelin brothers buy a stake in the Citroën factories and then, at the request of the banks, take over the management. André Citroën's next challenge, the launch of the Traction Avant, is not enough to save him from bankruptcy.
André Citroën dies of cancer on 3 July 1935 and is laid to rest in Montparnasse cemetery in Paris.