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Charles J. Van Depoele

AKA Charles Joseph Van Depoele

Born: 27-Apr-1846
Birthplace: Lichtervelde, Belgium
Died: 18-Mar-1892
Location of death: Lynn, MA
Cause of death: Heart Failure

Gender: Male
Religion: Christian
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Inventor, Engineer

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Trolley car pioneer

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.

Wife: Ada Mina Hoogstraten Van Depoele (b. 1812, d. 1884)
Daughter: Adelaide Van Depoele Phelan
Son: Henry Van Depoele (forester)
Daughter: Marie Van Depoele Phelan
Daughter: Matilda Van Depoele Griffin
Daughter: Prudence Van Depoele

    University: St. Stanislaus College
    University: Imperial Lyceum

    Institute of Radio Engineers
    Naturalized US Citizen 1879
    Belgian Ancestry

Appears on postage stamps:
Belgium, Scott #1137 (50fr, issued 1983)
USA, Scott #2060 (20, depicting Montgomery streetcar, issued 1983)

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