Franz Reuleaux (1829–1905)

Professor of mechanical engineering

Franz Reuleaux was born in Eschweiler (near Aachen, Germany) on 30 September 1829. The son of a machine builder, he received a practical education before studying under Professor Ferdinand Redtenbacher at Karlsruhe Polytechnic School from 1850 to 1852.

He completed his studies at the Universities of Berlin and Bonn in 1854.

Work at the Federal Polytechnic Institute and publications

After a brief stint in industry, Reuleaux was offered a position at the newly founded Federal Polytechnic Institute (now ETH Zurich) in 1856, where he worked in the Department of Mechanics and Technology alongside Gustav Zeuner until 1864.

As a professor of mechanical engineering, he became famous for tracing mechanical engineering back to mathematical basics. He published a report on teaching movement mechanisms in the Zürcher Naturforschende Gesellschaft (Zurich Naturalist Society). 


Although Reuleaux turned down a position at the new Riga Polytechnic School in 1861, he left the Federal Polytechnic Institute in 1864 to take up a chair at the Berlin Gewerbeakademie (later the University of Applied Sciences), where he remained until 1896, eventually becoming


Reuleaux' Handschrift

ETH-Bibliothek, ETH Zurich University Archives (Hs 1231: 517)


As a student, Franz Reuleaux already began writing his book "Die Konstruktionslehre für den Maschinenbau", which he worked on until the 1860s. In the piece, he pursues the approach of determining the dimensions of mechanical components according to the laws of elastic tension. In his handbook on use in machine designs entitled "The Constructor", he revisits this approach and eventually completes it in his textbook on theoretical kinematics, which was published in 1875 and immediately translated into English, French and Italian. The second part entitled "Die praktischen Beziehungen der Kinematik zur Geometrie und Mechanik" followed in 1900.


Information on Franz Reuleaux is available in the Historical School Board Archive. The minutes can also be searched online on Schulratsprotokolle Online, based on the corresponding keyword. The ETH Zurich University Archives also contain a biographical file on the scientist, complete with obituaries. Twenty-nine works by Reuleaux are listed in the ETH-Bibliothek holdings, which can be ordered online. Works published prior to 1900 can be consulted in the Collections and Archives reading room.