Gustave Pierre Trouvé was born in La Haye-Descartes on 02 January 1839. Although he was a son of a merchant, he didn’t want to follow in his father’s footsteps – instead, he was interested in mechanisms and how they worked. He undertook training to become a locksmith and later he began studies at École des Arts et Métiers in Angers. He did not, however, graduate. He moved to Paris, where he began working as a clockmaker.
Pocket-sized batteries – a breakthrough invention
It was in the capital city of France where Trouvé spread his wings and devoted himself to the passion of creation. In less than 40 years, he invented and improved dozens of devices which he would power with one of his first inventions – a pocket-sized carbon-zinc battery. Among many of his achievements, it is important to note those developed for military and medical purposes. The first of them was a portable telegraph which enabled a two-way exchange of information over a distance of one kilometre. Another one was a metal detector used for locating and even extracting bullets or other bits from the wounded soldiers’ bodies. Trouvé also developed his own model of a rifle and a “polyscope” (which was the prototype of today’s endoscope) using a miniature incandescent airtight light bulb.
As many other inventors of his time, Trouvé would experiment with electricity and used it to power various vehicles. He invented the first ever electric bicycle on the basis of a British model of tricycle. When the construction failed to gain proper interest, the inventor rebuilt the motor and adjusted it so that it could be used in the demanding water environment. That’s how the first ever outboard engine was developed, and Trouvé installed it onto a boat sailing on the River Seine. That was not the end of his inventions though, because he was also determined to rise into the air. To achieve that, he built a vehicle with movable wings, which during its tests managed to fly 80 metres.
Gustave Trouvé – portable light sources
In the 1880s, the inventor would also work on portable sources of light. Requested by a doctor from Rouen, he developed a headlamp that considerably facilitated the performance of medical procedures. Over time, similar devices started to be used by miners, rescuers and hunters. Apart from that, Trouvé also created small lamps with coloured bulbs, which gained popularity among theatre artists.
Another of his most interesting inventions is an electric massage device, electric instruments, toys (e.g. luminous jump ropes, spring-loaded guns), electricity meter, electric slide projector or electric industrial ventilation system. Trouvé also improved many inventions developed by other people, e.g. the Bell’s telephone or the Siemens’ motor.
Gustave Trouvé – cause of death and achievements
Gustave Trouvé with his inventions did not achieve any spectacular success that could match with the ones of e.g. Thomson, who was described earlier, or the ones’ of the aforementioned Siemens. This may have been largely due to the approach of his that wasn’t focused on financial gain and profit, but on the desire to create and discover instead. That desire was so strong that eventually it led to the inventor’s death. While working of yet another of his projects, Trouvé hurt his fingers. As a result of negligence, the wound got infected and the infection turned into sepsis, which resulted in amputation. Despite staying in the hospital, Trouvé died at the age of 63. Ironically, the project he was working on was actually related to the light therapy of the skin.
He was exceptionally creative, which is why the list of his inventions is so vast and diverse. In this regard, he much resembled e.g. Garrett Morgan or Tito Livio Burattini. Interestingly, though, his attitude towards his own inventions and him being a confirmed bachelor almost made him forgotten by the world. Another contributing factor was the fire of the building in which all of his documents were archived. It wasn’t until the second decade of the 21st century that the plaques commemorating the inventor finally appeared in the place of his birth and on the wall of his old workshop.
Gustave Trouvé – childhood
Some of the inventions, or rather devices, that Trouvé developed have survived until today. Admittedly, by looking at the full list of those, one could think that the end of the 19th century very much resembled in some respect the beginning of the 21st. What is very noticeable in the works of this French inventor is his strive for the general electrification of almost every life area. The mobile devices, electric bicycles as well as electromagnetic guns (similar to the Gauss rifle) are technologies which we are rediscovering today, while Trouvé was the one to develop their early versions. We also need to remember that he lived at a time when the components he used in his inventions weren’t easily accessible and cost a lot. In fact, that is the main difference between “now” and “then”.
Today, any inventor who is determined to develop a prototype of a new device can choose from a whole range of affordable and standardised modules. These include not only mechanical components, electric motors but also other robotics components. Electronic systems, such as microcontroller modules or single-board computers are all precisely described and easy-to-use products. Communication between the devices has been standardised in such a way that by using a dedicated communication board we are able to connect to any other device of choice. There is also probably no need to mention how easily accessible miniaturised energy sources or economical lighting are today. One could think that these product are just waiting for someone who could combine them in an innovative way to create a new product. Perhaps it could solve some of our day-to-day problems, facilitate an industrial process or even help carry out some medical treatment? After all, Gustave Trouvé’s inventions can be found in all of these fields.
With such a great range of possibilities, we can only hope that, contrarily to the common belief, not everything has been discovered yet. It’s time for young enthusiasts to roll up their sleeves and take up to the realisation of their ideas. Get down to it!