Charles J. Van Depoele life and biography

Charles J. Van Depoele picture, image, poster

Charles J. Van Depoele biography

Date of birth : 1846-04-27
Date of death : 1892-03-18
Birthplace : Lichtervelde, Belgium
Nationality : Belgian
Category : Science and Technology
Last modified : 2011-10-03
Credited as : inventor, Van Depoele poles,

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Belgian-born inventor Charles Joseph Van Depoele was the first to adapt electricity to mining applications, but is better known for his substantial contributions to trolley technology. His 1885 patent for "Van Depoele poles," spring-loaded trolley poles which push upward against the overhead trolley wire, became the standard for cost-efficient, safe, and environmentally sound trolley operation.

After immigrating to America in 1869 he worked as a furniture craftsman specializing in making church pews, but he dedicated virtually all his funds and leisure time to experiments with electricity. He demonstrated the practicability of electrical traction in 1874, and in 1878 he wired illumination for evening performances of a traveling circus using arc lights of his own design. He displayed an electrified rail system at the Chicago Inter-State Fair in 1883, and motorized a railroad flatcar for the Toronto Industrial Exhibition in 1884, demonstrating the practicality of urban rail transit.

The first trolley service was established, briefly, in South Bend, Indiana, in 1885, using motorized horse cars. Longer-lasting service of Van Depoele's design began in Appleton, Wisconsin in the same year, and beginning in 1886 his system was used to convert the entire transit system in Montgomery, Alabama, from horsepower to overhead wire, making that town America's first to have city-wide electric transit. Van Depoele held more than 200 patents, and in 1888 sold his trolley-related inventions to the Thomson-Houston Electric Company, an ancestor of General Electric.

A prolific inventor, Van Depoele was granted at least 243 United States patents between 1881 and 1894 for various electric inventions including railway systems, lights, generators, motors, current regulators, pumps, telpher systems, batteries, hammers, rock drills, brakes, a gearless locomotive, a coal-mining machine, and a pile-driver.

He received the most recognition for his role in the development of electric railways; George Herbert Stockbridge wrote in 1891, "It is probably only just to Mr. Van Depoele to say that he is entitled to more credit than any other one man for the exploitation of electricity as a motive power."

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