1907 to 1925: Childhood and adolescence
April 16, 1907, Valcourt, in the Eastern Townships of Quebec, Canada:
Joseph-Armand Bombardier is born. No one in this peaceful farming village
anticipates the newborn's unusual destiny...
a boy, Joseph-Armand shows remarkable curiosity for everything mechanical,
disassembling and reassembling a variety of mechanisms. At a mere 13 years
old, he manufactures one of his first mechanical toys a miniature
locomotive driven by a clock mechanism and paints the object in great
detail, showing his advanced sense of both the mechanical and aesthetic.
Other mobile toys, such as tractors and boats, soon result from
Joseph-Armand's fertile imagination, to the immense pleasure of his brothers,
sisters, and friends.
The entrepreneurial spirit that will eventually lead this inventor to
success is already present: to finance the purchase of his clock mechanisms
from the village jeweller, the young Joseph-Armand uses the money he earns
serving mass to the parish.
From spinning wheel to cannon
Everything is possible in Joseph-Armand's feverishly inventive mind. He
builds a steam engine out of old sewing machine parts. With permission from
his aunt Marie, he mounts the engine on her spinning wheel, and to the boy's
great joy and his aunt's distress the experiment works: the wheel spins
faster and faster.
curiosity is constant. He convinces the local veterinarian, Mr. Archambault,
the father of his friend Paul, to give him a broken 12-calibre gun.
Joseph-Armand happily goes to work shortening the barrel, modifying the
firing system, cutting and polishing the butt, and changing the breech. Then
he mounts the new device on metal wheels, and demonstrates his mini-cannon
at Paul's house a week later. The gun is detonated with black powder in the
presence of a dumbfounded veterinarian.
The infernal engine
Joseph-Armand takes great pleasure in dismantling and reassembling Alfred
Bombardier's car motor, so to keep him away from it, Alfred gives his son an
old Model T Ford motor considered "irreparable." With the help of his
brother Léopold, the adolescent nevertheless fixes it and soon incorporates
it into a vehicle of his own design.
His first snow machine must wait a few months, however, because Alfred sends
him to pursue studies at Sherbrooke's Séminaire Saint-Charles-Borromée near
Valcourt at the age of 14. Alfred hopes that his eldest son will join the
priesthood, following a firmly rooted tradition of Quebec francophone
Insurmountable obstacles become challenges in the mind of Joseph-Armand.
Away from his workshop, the schoolboy continues developing his latest
idea. Upon his return for Christmas and New Year's vacation, he retreats to
his father's workshop where he prepares a surprise with his brother Léopold
and a few cousins.
New Year's Eve day Alfred Bombardier watches in astonishment as a strange
sled propelled by the old Ford motor emerges from his workshop a veritable
"infernal engine." Sitting in front, Léopold steers the machine using cotton
rope reins, while Joseph-Armand, standing at the back, operates the motor,
which drives a propeller manufactured
by the young inventor himself.
At 15 years old, the inventor has created his first snow vehicle. Its launch
surprises and amazes everyone, but Alfred Bombardier quickly orders it
dismantled, concerned about the dangerous propeller. Joseph-Armand obeys,
but is secretly proud of having successfully driven his machine on the snow.
Change of direction
Joseph-Armand's intellectual curiosity and ingenuity, and his pleasure in
crafting different mechanisms and repairing motors, are an early sign of the
passion that will drive him through life. He continues his studies at the
Séminaire, but his heart isn't in it. He knows he will be neither a priest,
nor doctor, nor farmer, but rather a mechanic.
At age 17 he obtains his father's consent to quit college and begin an
apprenticeship at Gosselins's Garage in South Stukely in the spring of 1924. He then left to work in Montreal where he took night-school courses in mechanics and electrical engineering. He also took english courses and reads all the science and technology publications he can get his hands on.
Alfred Bombardier's house
Alfred bombardier and Rose-Anna's
Family in 1932: (front row from left to right) Hermine, Alfred,
Gérard, Rose-Anna and Léontine, (second row, from l. to r.) Alphonse-Raymond,
Théophile, Joseph-Armand, Léopold and Georges.
first communion at 9, 1916
The models of Joseph-Armand's toys on display at the Museum are
reproductions created by his brother Léopold.
Joseph-Armand at 14, 1921