Charles-Pierre-Mathieu Combes was born on 26 December 1801 in Cahors. His father was a senior policeman named Pierre Combes Mathieu. He joined the Ecole Polytechnique before the usual starting age of seventeen on 1 September 1817 and completed his studies in 1820 when he was admitted to the School of Mines. Combes completed the three year course in just two years. He graduated on 1 July 1822.
In 1825 he became a teacher of mathematics at the Ecole de Saint-Etienne, a post he held for two years. He then worked in industry but returned to the Saint-Etienne school in 1827 and stayed until 1831.
In 1832 he started at the School of Mines in Paris.
Combes' wife Louise Pauline (born Bousquet) died young in 1841.
Combes took an interest in his students. A young Marcel Deprez failed to complete the course at the School of Mines. He must have made a good impression as he was employed as Combes' secretary. Deprez went on to show that electricity could be transmitted over long distances.
He has been recognised as a model of what is now called a consultant engineer. He was called on to arbitrate in disputes. He ruled on the ventilation of the mines in Belgium as well as advising foundries and collieries.
In 1868 he chaired the General Council of Mines. He was given a number of honours. In 1860 he was made a Commander of the Legion of honour. In 1868 he was awarded the Italian Commander of the Order of St. Maurice and Lazarus and he was made a Commander of the Order of Leopold of Belgium.
Combes died in Paris in 1872 and left a son and two daughters. One of his daughters married the chemist Charles Friedel. He was buried with his wife, Louise Pauline. Pierre Antoine Combes (1831–72) shares the same grave.
Combes was one of seventy-two people whom Gustav Eiffel chose as people who had made his achievement of building the Eiffel Tower possible. Combes is number fifty in this list. His name is on the side opposite the military academy.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Charles Combes.|
- Hydraulic Engineering Legends listed on the Eiffel Tower, Hubert Chanson, docstoc.com, accessed April 2010
- Eulogy, Speech on his tomb, Annales.org, in French, accessed April 2010
- Charles Combes, lachaise.net, accessed April 2010
- The Engine Indicator, John Walters, Chapter 8, p.8-20
- Charles Combes, quercy.net, accessed April 2010
- Names on the tower, tour-eiffel.fr, accessed April 2010