The Ecole Polytechnique was set up in Paris in 1794 as a response to an emergency. The various purges that had followed from the French Revolution of 1789 left many of the civil and military engineering organizations short of competent civil engineers and military officers. The purpose of the school was to train a new generation to fill the gap, and as quickly as possible; the students were taught the basics of many techniques (hence the school’s name), especially in mathematics, in a three-year course (reduced to two years in 1799). Then the graduates would continue with more specialist studies in one of several civil or military engineering schools.
Leading scientists, especially mathematicians, were recruited to the Ecole Polytechnique as professors, graduation examiners, and lecturers, but the main key to its success was its policy of selecting the most talented students from around the country. The scale of success was surprising; until the late 1810s, the school produced a remarkable cohort of dozens of graduates who took prominent places in the sciences and technological fields, several achieving international repute.