Charles Van De Poele, the Flemish inventor of the trolley tram
Belgian engineer Charles Van De Poele, born in Lichtervelde on 27 April 1846, is the holder of around 249 patents related to electricity. It was thanks to his invention that the trolley tram was used across the Atlantic.
In his youth, the family moved to Poperinge for professional reasons, which allowed the young Charles to attend the very select Collège Saint-Stanislas, where even then he showed a particular interest in electricity treatises.
His father, a carpenter by trade who intended his son to be a woodcarver, sent him to the Buisine-Rigot workshops in Lille to learn this technique; Charles took advantage of a small amount of freedom to follow courses in electricity at the imperial high school in this northern city.
In 1869, he decided to try his luck in America and moved to Detroit, where he joined the Belgian colony. He spent seven years making church furniture while indulging in his true passion: electricity. His inventions included a vibration control system for his friend Thomas Edison's arc lamp, and thus illuminated the pediment of the Detroit opera house.
This was before he left with his family for Chicago, where he created the Van Depoele Electric Light Company of Chicago. For the 1883 Chicago exhibition, he invented the introduction of underground-powered trams. But he was soon faced with the freezing of this type of power supply; to alleviate this problem, he invented a tram whose engine, located on the roof, was powered by an overhead current - the trolley tram was born.
This invention immediately won over the public at the 1885 Toronto Annual Exposition, where it was presented. Minneapolis and New York placed an order to replace their steam-powered trams. However, Van De Poele did not have long to enjoy the income from his invention, because on March 18, 1892 in Lynn, Massachusetts, he breathed his last, due to a cold followed by complications.