Gustave Trouve Pioneers Electric Transport in 1881

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Gustave Trouve was quick off the mark with the new technology emerging. In 1881, he told the French Academy of Sciences he had invented an electric motor. This was an improved version of the Siemens coil flange, which he claimed produced a ‘remarkable output’.

Gustave Trouve Powers Up an Electric Cycle

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Trouve Electric Boat: Albert Tissandier: Public Domain

Gustave decided to use James Starley’s electric tricycle as the carriage for the first practical electric vehicle. The English inventor had pioneered differential gears and perfected bicycle chain drives. This may have made the difference and influenced his choice.

Gustave Trouve successfully rode his electric tricycle along the Rue Valois in central Paris. Notice the lead-acid batteries in the box behind him in the top picture. He was unable to patent it, perhaps because he did not invent the motor, or the electric vehicle, or the batteries, or the concept. He just configured them, but this did not deter his spirit. Gustav moved on and adapted his electric motor to suit marine propulsion. In the process, he invented the outboard motor.

The World’s First Boat with Outboard Motor

Gustave invented the outboard motor so he did not have to take the boat back to his workshop to service it. He called his 16-foot prototype Le Téléphone. Can you see the lead-acid batteries in the middle of the boat in the photo above. It achieved a speed of 2 miles per hour going up the River Seine, and 5 going down. Gustave Trouve exhibited the boat at the International Electrical Exhibition in the city and received the Légion d’Honneur.

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Trouve Mechanical Bird: Trouvé Inventor: CC 4.0

However, he was not all work and no play. He used a miniaturized version of his motor to power a model airship, a dental drill, a sewing machine and a razor.

He put the lead-acid battery to good use in so many other devices too numerous to mention. These included an electric headlamp and horn for his boat, an electrical portable military telegraph, and the mechanical bird in his drawing to the right.

Gustave Trouve died aged 63 in 1902. History records he was a confirmed bachelor with no children. He soon passed from public memory because none of his inventions reached market. When the lease on his grave expired, the city reburied him in a communal grave. In 1980, his archives burned in a fire in the Descartes town hall, and much of what was left was gone forever.


Johann Kravogl Exhibits at Paris World Fair of 1867

Camille Faure Creates Lead-Acid Batteries in 1881

Preview Image: Trouve Electric Tricycle


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I tripped over a shrinking bank balance and fell into the writing gig unintentionally. This was after I escaped the corporate world and searched in vain for ways to become rich on the internet by doing nothing. Despite the fact that writing is no recipe for wealth, I rather enjoy it. I will not deny I am obsessed with it when I have the time. My base is Umtentweni in South Africa on the Kwazulu-Natal South Coast. I work from home where I ponder on the future of the planet, and what lies beyond in the great hereafter. Sometimes I step out of my computer into the silent riverine forests, and empty golden beaches for which the area is renowned. Richard Farrell

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