Gustave Trouvé was a nineteenth-century, French engineer whose work focused on electric motors and batteries. Very little information concerning Trouvé or his inventions is made available in English. Or in any language, really. But with the Maker Lab I am currently drawing information from George Barral’s 1891 Trouvé biography and translating parts of it to gain insight into Victorian materials, how Trouvé constructed various machines and devices, and the contexts in which those technologies were used. In his biography, Barral describes Trouvé’s inventions—including medical equipment, military supplies, telephone systems, lamps, sewing machines, electric cars, outboard motors, music players, and mechanical birds—and he explores how those technologies were adopted (or not) by Victorian society. Interestingly, Trouvé himself participated in the creation of the biography. He drew many images in the text, playfully signing them with the pseudonym, “L. Bienfait” (“Well Done”).

In Barral’s biography, many of Bienfait’s images depict everyday people, ballet dancers, and theatre performers adorned in electric jewelry designed by Trouvé. As Barral suggests, these pieces were used not simply for theatre and productions but also for everyday purposes. He refers to them as “une source d’électricité dans sa poche” (166), which translates to “a source of electricity in one’s pocket,” and he outlines their practicality for those who required light but wanted to remain elegant in full eveningwear. As a way of historicizing current technologies such as Google Glass, in the Lab we refer to this electric jewelry as “early wearable technology.” This year we are using Barral’s biography and L. Bienfait’s drawings to create kits containing the necessary components to reconstruct Trouvé’s Victorian designs: the hairpins, headpieces, stickpins, and other embellishments that he illuminated and animated with batteries and small motors. We will then send these kits to scholars with the intention that they assemble, and interact with, the components in order to unpack an admittedly conjectural history of wearables.

For now, though, we are using Git and GitHub to produce a Trouvé image repository, which will ultimately contain 250+ PNGs of public domain drawings cropped from Barral’s 1891 biography. There, in the file name for every image, I’ve included English translations of the captions found in the original French text. While the repo is not quite finished, it should be complete before December, when I’ll post an update here. In the meantime, if you are interested in Bienfait or Trouvé, then consider reading Kevin Desmond’s A la recherche de Trouvé.

Post by Danielle Morgan, attached to the KitsForCulture project, with the physcomp and fabrication tags. Featured image for this post care of Histoire d’un inventeur, by George Barral.


More about Danielle Morgan

Visiting Artist and Researcher, MLab