With the magic of our MAKE Wayback Machine,
we were able to interview the man whose contributions to society were rivaled only by those of
Edison. You may come away thinking Trouvé
deserves a brighter place in the spotlight of history.
Monsieur Trouvé, were you always a maker?
Évidemment! I could happily spend from morning to evening tinkering and constructing little
carriages, telegraphs, mills, rabbits, automated
birds inflated by air. Although I didn’t partake
much in the children’s games of my age, I loved
to amaze friends with the toys I made for them.
When I was 6, I made a wind-powered
marionette mill of wood, lead, and pewter. The
connecting rods and cogwheels made the little
figures move like people cavorting in the woods.
At 7, I constructed a steam engine using a gunpowder box and some hairpins. Then, in a sardine
tin, I made a tiny fire engine with an air and water
pump that apparently was new at the time.
After studying mathematical sciences and
mechanical arts, I was fortunate to work in Paris
in a premier clockmaker’s shop. My patrons and
colleagues seemed impressed with my manual
skills, and I learned much from them.
During my leisure time, I studied architecture,
mathematics, chemistry, and physics. But with
electricity it was like love at first light.
In 1866 I established my workshop in Paris. My
flattering biographer, Monsieur Georges Barral,
claimed I possessed a gift for turning concepts
into action. Perhaps that is why inventors and
customers flocked to the workshop.
The electric rifle I invented employed two
small batteries. Capable of firing 18 to 20 shots
per minute, it eliminated deviations in accuracy
caused by the shock of a hammer. It was an
object of public curiosity at the international
Exposition Universelle in 1867, where it was
presented to Emperor Napoleon III. An expert
in weapons development, l’empereur admired
If your early inventions attracted such atten-
tion, why do so few people in North America
know about you?
Je ne sais pas! Perhaps they need to study
French! Or maybe it is the nature of invention
that the name of the first — or the most famous
32 Make: Volume 17
CHARGE ME UP: (this page) The very economical
Trouvé-Callaud battery, with constant and continuous current optimal for medical use; (facing page)
Trouvé’s moist-cell copper-zinc battery in a glass vase
with paper disks; his universal automatic battery,
shown in use and in repose; a cutaway illustration of
Trouvé’s battery-operated electric rifle.
— inventor lives on, while those who contribute
modifications go unheralded.
For example, I made valuable improvements
to the telephone, boosting sound volume and
improving the magnets. Forgotten!
However, when I led the way with inventions,
the acclaim was international and gratifying.
A scientific journal of London wrote, “If England
has Swan, America Edison, France has Trouvé.”
Why spend so much time on batteries?
That’s hardly a route to fame and fortune.
Alors, electricity was beginning to transform
society, yet batteries were fraught with limitations. For me, they were fundamental building
blocks that needed to be improved in order to be
truly useful in multiple applications. I developed
many types: wet-cell, dry-cell, moist-cell, sealed,
portable, pocket, automatic, reversible, and more.
I was one of the first who combated the opinion that wet-cell potassium bichromate batteries
would be very inconstant and inapplicable to