Gustave Pierre Trouvé was a French electrical engineer and inventor in the 19th century with over 70 patents who was awarded France’s Legion de Honneur in 1882.
Trouvé was born on 2 January 1839 in La Haye-Descartes (Indre-et-Loire, France) and died on 27 July 1902 in Paris. He studied to be a locksmith in Chinon College, then in 1854-55 at the École des Arts et Métiers in Angers. He was unable to cmplete his studies due to poor health and left his local region for Paris where he obtained a job with a clockmaker.
From 1865 Trouvé set up a workshop in central Paris where he innovated and patented many widely differing applications of electricity, regularly reported on by popular science magazines of the time such as La Nature.
In 1880 Trouvé improved the efficiency of a small electric motor developed by Siemens and using the recently developed rechargeable battery, fitted it to an English James Starley tricycle, so inventing the world’s first electric vehicle. Although this was successfully tested on 19 April 1881 along the Rue Valois in central Paris, he was unable to patent it.
Trouvé swiftly adapted his battery-powered motor to marine propulsion. To make it easy to carry his marine conversion to and from his workshop to the nearby River Seine, Trouvé made it portable and removable from the boat, thus inventing the outboard engine.
On 26 May 1881 the 5m Trouvé prototype, called Le Téléphone reached a speed of 1 m/s (3.6 km/h) going upstream at 2.5 m/s (9 km/h) downstream.
Trouvé exhibited his boat (but not his tricycle) and his electro-medical instruments at the International Electrical Exhibition in Paris and soon after was awarded the Légion d’Honneur.
A sampling of Trouvé’s inventions and innovations:
- a portable military telegraph whose cabling enabled rapid communication up to a distance of one kilometer.
- a device for locating and extracting metal objects such as bullets from human patients, the prototype of today’s metal detector.
- His “Photophore” was a battery-powered frontal headlamp, which could be oriented by head movements, so freeing the hands of its wearer. It was the forerunner of today’s wearable technology.
- Among his 75 innovations were: an electric massaging machine, a battery-powered wearable lifejacket, a water-jet propelled boat and a streamlined bicycle, as well as several children’s toys.
In 1902, Trouvé was working on his latest innovation, a small portable device which used ultra-violet light to treat skin diseases, the prototype of PUVA therapy when he accidentally cut his thumb and index finger. Neglecting the wound, sepsis set in and after amputations at the Saint-Louis Hospital, Paris, the 63-year-old inventor died on 27 July 1902.
After his death Trouvé and his reputation suffered from neglect and when the obligatory concession for his tomb in the cemetery of his native town of Descartes was not renewed, his remains were thrown into the common grave.
His archives were destroyed in February 1980 during an accidental fire in the Descartes Town Hall. In 2012, following a French biography by English transport historian Kevin Desmond, a commemorative plaque was officially unveiled on the site of his birthplace. Mr. Desmond is one of the members of this year’s voting panel for the The Gussies.
A second plaque dedicated to Trouvé was officially unveiled by Desmond and Jacques Boutault, Mayor of Paris 2nd District, on the wall outside his former workshop, 14 rue Vivienne on 15 October 2016.
More about Trouvé can be found on this wikipedia page and in Mr. Desmond’s book, Gustave Trouve, French Electrical Genius, 1839-1902