Oyonnax, Nantua, Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, France

Oyonnax is a French commune located in the department of Ain, in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region. It is the second most populous municipality in the department. Famous for its industrial know-how, Oyonnax enjoys a remarkable natural setting which offers summer and winter many cultural discoveries as well as a multitude of leisure and relaxation offers.

Oyonnax, located in the heart of the Jura Mountains, at an altitude of 540 meters, is also the gateway town to the Haut-Jura Regional Natural Park: this region of lakes, forests, rivers, is suitable for hiking in summer and for activities. Nordic in winter, with several resorts in the immediate vicinity (Hautes-Combes, Plateau de Retord, etc.). It is near the Parc naturel régional du Haut-Jura. Oyonnax is located north of the department of Ain, at the northern limit of Haut-Bugey, in a region of lakes, forests and rivers between the agglomerations of Lyon and Geneva; it is in the Jura massif, at the gateway to the Haut-Jura regional natural park.

The city has specialized in the late 18th century in the manufacture of wooden hair combs and horn while following closely the technological developments. Handicrafts, in particular the turning of wooden or horn articles were initially a means of overcoming the peasant difficulties due to the harshness of the climate and to the relative poverty of the earth. The surrounding waterways allowed artisans to use water mills.

The town was awarded the Médaille de la Résistance on 16 June 1947. One of the outstanding achievements of the French Résistance occurred here on 11 November 1943, when the Maquis de l’Ain et du Haut-Jura defied the German occupiers to hold a 11 November parade and memorial service in honor of French soldiers from World War I.

Its prominence in the plastics industry has earned it the name Plastics Valley. This production became industrialized at the end of the 19th century, before undergoing a revolution: the arrival of plastic, with celluloid in 1880 then galalith in 1918, rhodoid in 1930 and finally from 1935 polystyrene and other materials more suited to molding techniques. Oyonnax will then continue to develop in the field of plastics, with the creation of hundreds of companies covering all components of the sector, and a wide range of products ranging from glasses to garden furniture, including toys.

The Oyonnax industry was marked by Clé, Gilac, Grosfillex, Bollé, Écoiffier, Minialuxe, Riviera, G. Convert (Nano infants, boats and windsurfers) and even Berchet. The Emin-Leydier company also has a cardboard packaging production site. Oyonnax is today hui in the center of the Plastics Valley. The commune of Oyonnax includes localities: Geilles, Bouvent, Massiat, Chatonnax, Mons and Veyziat.

In 630, Clovis II, the son of Dagobert I king of the Franks, went to Geneva to meet the king of the Burgundians. There he meets a young slave, daughter of a Saxon king taken prisoner and wishes to ask her in marriage. Under this commitment, Dagobert I sends a delegation including Léger of Autun, to ask the king of the Burgundians the hand of the princess and bring her back to Paris. Arriving in the sector of Oyonnax, at a place called Sous-Nierme, the litterde Léger d’Autun breaks and injures the leader of the escort. Residents of Oyonnax then provided him with some care and repaired the vehicle. After his recovery, the procession takes to the road again, benefiting from gifts of Oyonnaxian manufacture. In recognition of these gestures, Léger d’Autun, who became bishop and advisor to Queen Bathilde, grants the municipality the privilege of manufacturing wooden combs. Saint-Léger has also become the patronal feast of the town of Oyonnax.

Belonging to the Middle Ages to the lords of Thoire, Oyonnax had only been an agricultural village for centuries (52 inhabitants in 1601). The first development comes from the XVII century, through crafts: woodworking and horn. The second place during the industrial revolution of the XIX century: from a small mountain village, Oyonnax became an industrial town, some companies sell their products throughout Europe. The railway arrived in 1885 that allows the turn of the XX century, becoming a city that then continues to build. Nitrocellulose is produced there, before a plastics processing center is installed there.

In 1889, Oyonnax was the first town in France to receive so-called “long-distance” electricity transmission, the work of engineer Raclet. One hundred years later, in October 1989, Oyonnax was supplied with natural gas.

A city of resistance
The croix de guerre and the medal of the resistance were awarded to the city of oyonnax after the second world war for its acts of resistance, in particular that of 11 november 1943: the collaborationist government of marshal pétain had prohibited any commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the 1918 victory over germany.

Braving this ban, captain romans, head of the ain maquis, decided that the maquisards would march to oyonnax. The rally took place in the central square of oyonnax. The parade, gathering 120 men in uniforms and in arms, headed towards the monument to the dead where a cross of lorraine was placed with this inscription: “the winners of tomorrow to those of 14-18”.

This parade had repercussions in London where General de Gaulle informed Winston Churchill. The latter, on behalf of the allies of France, decided to parachute weapons and ammunition onto the Echallon meadow, a neighboring town of Oyonnax.

The city is recognized for the know-how of its companies which have been working with polymers since the end of the 19th century. The Plastics Vallée around Oyonnax and the Pôle Européen de Plasturgie (PEP) is one of the department’s four industrial centers of excellence. The plastics industry, the flagship of the local economy, allows the city to be recognized worldwide.

Historically, the town has built its reputation with the manufacture of boxwood toilet combs then horn headdress ornaments. These industries took off at the start of the 18th century. At that time, Oyonnax saw its population doubling. The ergot of ox and especially the horn replace the boxwood to manufacture the combs. The first factories are created and the peasants become full-fledged workers. Unravelers, cleaners, fancy combs are then produced in abundance and become authentic little masterpieces. The “city of the comb” enters the 20th century with an industry of world reputation which draws its titles of nobility from an indisputable seniority, from the quality of its products, from the traditional skill of its workers, from the ingenuity of its craftsmen.

Industrial wealth
Production is industrialized before undergoing a revolution: the arrival of plastic. Several materials revolutionized the sector: celluloid then galalith in 1918, rhodoid in 1930. Five years later, polystyrene and other materials more suited to molding techniques appeared. Today, new polymers are used: high performance composites, self-repairing plastics, nanocomposites, biomaterials, etc. Ingenious machines have revolutionized techniques (presses for the automatic transformation of thermoplastic and thermosetting materials into manufactured objects, injection molding machines, extrusion…).

The Oyonnaxian industry, faithful to its traditions, still occupies a leading place in the market for quality items: combs and hairdressing ornaments, jewelry, eyewear, household items, camping, haberdashery, stationery, games, toys, industrial parts, conditioning and packaging, leather goods, school articles, sports, aeronautics, cars, garden furniture…

The companies Gilac, Grosfillex and Bollé have made the city famous. By their side, a multitude of dynamic SMEs / SMIs have an international influence. Often positioned in economic niches, they are recognized for their know-how, their adaptability and their technical expertise in sectors as diverse as the automotive, cosmetics, medical and pharmaceutical sectors.

Economically, Oyonnax is recognized for the know-how of its companies which have long been working with plastics. This know-how, which makes Oyonnax world famous, is unveiled at the Comb and Plastics Museum. Its exhibition traces the industrial history of the city, from the first combs to the plastics industry of tomorrow and highlights the city’s motto: “It has risen thanks to the hard work of its inhabitants”.

The comb
The boxwood is a shrub that likes forests. This very fine-grained hardwood makes it possible to precisely sculpt pretty objects like combs to hold back long hair for ladies. At the beginning of the 18th century, the boxwood was replaced by the horn of the hoofs of oxen and horses: “ergot” and “clampon”. Later, celluloid, a type of plastic, supplanted horn… until women’s fashion was short haired.

Plastics valley
This rich industrial life brings together 660 companies and 14 industrial parks in the plastics industry in the basin. The skills go through the manufacture of metal molds, machines, the design and conception of objects, to recycling techniques (with the PTCE TRIVEO, territorial center of economic cooperation), through the transformation of materials, decoration and marketing of products.

Located in the center of the Plastics Vallée oyonnaxienne, the CTIPC (Industrial Technical Center for Plastics and Composites) testifies to the industrial dynamism of the sector. A skills center endowed with high-performance scientific and technical resources, the CTIPC enables the sector to benefit from applied research and technological transfer: additive manufacturing, plastronics, etc. At its side revolves the Plastipolis competitiveness cluster, the plastics processing site of INSA, engineering school, the Arbez Carme high school, and the “Plasticampus” trade campus.

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The plastics valley thus brings together all the trades of the sector, from the mold to all the plastic transformation processes for all sectors of the industry, including the trading of raw materials, equipment., machine tools. The city now hosts two large cardboard and packaging companies, emin leydier and lgr-reine, thus enabling any customer to design, produce and package a product in the same territory. This excellence is represented at the spido (salon des produits innovants et design d’oyonnax) organized by the aepv (association of economic actors of the plastics valley) and by the spido cup (cup co-produced from a to z by 25 companies partners of the valley).

City tour
A free urban route punctuated by 21 stages allows you to discover the historical and architectural landscape of the city center of Oyonnax, where housing and plastic industry coexist, family workshops and small and medium-sized businesses. A stroll through the streets of the city center, in search of the painted walls which have taken up residence here and there over the years. These creative frescoes, witnesses of the city’s experience, are multicolored links between past, present and future.

Historical heritage

Line of the swallows
Train station of the tourist railway of the “Line of the swallows”

The Great Vapor
This monument was renamed, the “Great Vapor” originally designating another older building which supplied energy through steam and which belonged to the Industrial Motor Company. This first Grande Vapeur then changed use several times until it became a cinema before its destruction in 2001.

La Grande Vapeur is a building built in 1905 by the architect Auguste Chanard. At the time, it was a new generation plant: it was made up of around sixty individual cabins connected to a single engine thanks to the transmission of belts. They are rented by the workers, called “piéçards” because they are paid by the piece. These are therefore completely independent, except for the fact that they are under the authority of the Electric Union – former name of EDF – owner of the premises and supplier of the energy necessary for the machines. The factory operated like this for half a century, before the invention of the injection molding machine.

In 1967, the town of Oyonnax bought the building from EDF, which no longer used it. It was classified as a historical monument in 1988, and was rehabilitated to house the comb and plastics museum.

Brunet House, former town hall
Old Town Hall built in the XVII century. Currently “House of Security”.

Place de la Croix-Rousse
This square is located in the heart of a district (in full redevelopment) which bears the same name. It is the industrialists of Lyon during their collaborations with their Oyonnaxian counterparts who underlined by this nickname the geographical resemblance with the Croix-Rousse of Lyon: a strong industrial presence in a sloping district accessible by very steep climbs, rue du 8 mai 1945, rue du Muret and rue du Château. The square only constitutes a terrace since the rue de la Paix, also very sloping, leads to the upper districts of the city (Place des Déportés from 1944, Lycée Paul-Painlevé). To differentiate it from the Lyonnaise, the Oyonnaxienne Croix-Rousse has long worn a final “s” (Croix-Rousses), now abandoned.

Religious monuments
Gothic church Veyziat Place Saint-Clair, it was built in the XV and XVI centuries, and is dedicated to St. Clair. Dated murals of the late XIV century, early XV century, were found under a layer of plaster.
Saint-Léger church, place Émile Zola, restoration of the church (1839), by the architect Chenavard.
Notre-Dame Church, La Plaine district, rue Normandie Niemen (modern) designed by the architect Pierre Pinsard. It was completed in 1969 and inaugurated in 1970. The first priest was Abbé Morel. The brutalist-inspired church is made of concrete. It was carried out by the company Billiez-Godet d’Oyonnax under the supervision of René Collet, site manager.
Chapelle Sainte Madeleine, rue de la Chapelle in Bouvent.
Evangelical church, rue des Sources in Geilles.
Kingdom Hall, Sauges district in Geilles.

Cultural heritage
In the district of “la Plaine” is located the Aragon cultural center which houses, among others, two theaters (640 and 100 seats), the National School of Music and Dance, and the Museum of Comb and Plastics. This museum will eventually be moved to the “Great Vapor”. You can see collections of ornamental combs, plastic dresses by designer Paco Rabanne and the history of plastics. Apart from sports associations, the town has an associative fabric of more than 50 associations.

Comb and Plastics Museum
Created in the heart of the Plastics Valley, the cradle of an innovative industry, the Comb and Plastics Museum is made up of an exceptional collection of some 16,000 objects collected since 1928 in the fields of art and industry, from the first boxwood combs with design objects inaugurating new bioplastic materials. Inaugurated in 1977, the Museum of Comb and Plastics, is labeled “Museum of France”.

In a modern scenography that is updated every year, the museum invites the visitor to discover the astonishing industrial adventure of a valley which has been recognized worldwide for several centuries in the field of plastics. 10,000 years of history comb, a workshop for making ornaments from the last century, objects in galalith, bakelite… design armchairs, dresses by Paco Rabanne, in plastic, a first injection press, a kitchen from the sixties, vintage glasses…

Events and festivities
Renowned for its sense of celebration, Oyonnax organizes large gatherings in its streets throughout the year (such as the Winter Festival, the Spring Festival, the class parade, wine fair…), welcomes quality artists at the Aragon Cultural Center and organizes numerous exhibitions at Valexpo.

The winter festival, mid-December
Spring Festival, March
Parade of classes (the 1 Saturday in June)
The water festival, September

Another strong symbol of the city of Oyonnax, rugby. The success of USO rugby, which reached the Top 14 in 2013, is also based on work, like the motto of the city. Indeed, for Oyonnax, sport is of great importance, and the city claims its status as a sporting city, by hosting sporting events of national or even international scope: the Tour de France in July 2014, the French Gymnastics Championship in 2013, the final of the Coupe de France des Rallyes in 2013 etc…

Oyonnax, a dynamic and festive city, renowned for its conviviality, likes to put happiness and color on the plates of its guests. Many restaurants welcome you, awaken your taste buds and make you travel between tradition and culinary discovery. The art of receiving and sharing on the red carpet. The red wine sausage is one of the typical recipes of the commune.

Natural heritage
Oyonnax is a town in bloom with two flowers awarded by the National Council of towns and villages in bloom of France to the competition of towns and villages in bloom Within the town we find many green spaces and walks.

Sarsouille river
La Sarsouille is a river that begins to chirp near Lac Genin and then settles in the heart of the Brétouze forest. It then lays around the allotment gardens before entering the Oyonalithe park, then in the René Nicod park. It continues its course in the arranged undergrounds then it leaves the city, on the side of Bellignat, to throw itself in the arms of Lange and finish its course in Oignin.

For a long time, the Sarsouille operated mills, grain or wood. Particularly in the 19th century, when artisans were looking for a way to obtain energy to produce a greater quantity of combs. It then became one of the engines of industry in Oyonnax: supply and leakage channels were created and water reservoirs were built.

The Forest of la Brétouze
A stone’s throw from the city center, the Brétouze is a very popular place for walks and leisure activities. It is ideal for practicing outdoor sports activities thanks to the development of mountain biking, hiking, trail, orienteering or even fitness trails.

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