In the struggle between the Vendeans and the Republicans in France from 1793 to 1795, a band of brigands sprang up, pillaging and firing the countryside.
They entered such houses as they suspected of holding treasure, demanding that the owner turn over his gold and silver to them.
Their chief leader was one called Schinderhannes or Jean l’Ecorcheur, “Jack the Scorcher,” who introduced ways of enforcing their demands. If a householder refused or was thought to have concealed some of his valuables, he would be bound to a chair and his feet thrust into the fire on the hearth.
For that reason these brigands became known as chauffeurs, firemen, from the French verb chamfer, to heat, to stoke. Later, after the introduction of steamships, locomotives, and so on, the term was more honorably applied to stokers and firemen.
The name was logically transferred to the mechanic employed to tend an automobile (later its driver) because the early automobile, which operated by steam, required a stoker.