It was a Frenchman who created the first electric car in 1881
The engineer Gustave Trouvé built the first electric car. In 1881, he presented it at the first international electricity exhibition.
Gustave Trouvé was born into a middle-class family, his father, Jacques Trouvé, being a cattle merchant. In 1850, he began his studies at the college in Chinon. He also learned the locksmith trade, then entered the École des Arts et Métiers in Angers in 1854-1855. As his studies were incomplete due to ill health, he left Touraine for Paris, where he got a job as a watchmaker.
In 1880, Gustave Trouvé improved the efficiency of a small electric motor developed by Siemens. He powered it with an accumulator recently developed by Starley and mounted it on an English Coventry tricycle, thus inventing the world’s first electric vehicle.
Although it was successfully tested on 19 April 1881 in the Rue de Valois centre of Paris, Gustave Trouvé could not patent it. He, therefore, quickly adapted his accumulator engine to maritime propulsion. To transport the marine propulsion system between his workshop and the Seine, Gustave Trouvé made it portable and removable, thus inventing the outboard motor.
In 1902, Gustave Trouvé was working on his latest innovation, a small portable device that uses ultraviolet light to treat skin diseases, the prototype of PUVA therapy, when he accidentally cut his thumb and index finger. Neglecting his wound, he developed sepsis which required amputations at the Saint-Louis Hospital in Paris.
The inventor died on 27 July 1902 at the Saint-Louis Hospital in the 10th arrondissement of Paris, aged 63.
A notary was charged with liquidating his workshop and his assets. Gustave Trouvé had no declared heir and no one capable of maintaining his estate, so the career of this inventor sank entirely into oblivion.
When the concession for his grave in the cemetery of his hometown of La Haye-Descartes expired, the remains of Gustave Trouvé were thrown into the common grave.
His archives were destroyed in February 1980 following an accidental fire in the town hall. In 2012, following their biography by English transport historian Kevin Desmond, a commemorative plaque was unveiled on the site of his birthplace.
On 15 October 2016, a second plaque was unveiled on the outside wall of his former workshop, 14 rue Vivienne, in the 2nd arrondissement of Paris by Kevin Desmond and Jacques Boutault, mayor of the arrondissement.
An exhibition celebrating the 180th anniversary of his birth, entitled ‘Gustave Trouvé, the Da Vinci of the 19th century’, was held at his birthplace in La Haye-Descartes, France, in May 2019. Sixteen of his original instruments were collected, electric cars, boats, drones and modern bicycles were assembled in his honour.
In 2021, 5.6 million electric cars were sold worldwide.