Skip to main content
COLLECTION Identifier: Mss:867 1877-1892 (1946)

Charles Van Depoele papers


The Charles Van Depoele papers spans the years 1877-1946 and contains the inventor and industrial consultant's work with electricity and electric power including patents, drawings, scattered legal and business papers, and photographs of some of his inventions in use.


  • 1877-1946
  • Majority of material found within 1877 - 1892

Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research. Materials stored offsite; access requires advance notice. Contact for more information.


2.75 linear feet (4 boxes, 5 volumes)

The Charles Van Depoele papers collect his work as an inventor of electrical machines, light bulbs, drills for mining, and trolley motive power equipment. Patents and patent drawings supplemented by catalogues, business cards, and advertisements document his inventions. Business and legal records from Van Depoele Laboratory and Thomson-Houston Electric Company include correspondence, clippings, contracts, receipts, checks, and legal documents. Biographical material includes correspondence, clippings, a portion of a book, and personal legal documents. Boxes 2-4 contain a collection of 60 photographs that show some of his inventions in use at several work sites and cities throughout the United States and Canada. The bulk of the collection dates from Van Depoele’s active work life from 1877 to his death in 1892, with additional estate papers from 1892-1918, and biographical material dating from 1937 and 1946.

Biographical / Historical

Charles Van Depoele was born in Lichtervelde, Belgium in 1846. He immigrated to the United States in 1869 eventually became a successful manufacturer of church furniture. This provided him with the money to pursue his interest in electricity. He developed an electric generator in 1880 and three years later took out a patent for an electric railway. In 1888 Van Depoele sold his electric-railway patents to Thomson-Houston Electric Company of Lynn, Massachusetts.

Other patents by Van Depoele included an alternating-current electric reciprocating engine (1889), a telpher system for a car suspended from cables (1890), a coal-mining machine (1891) and a gearless electric locomotive (1894). Charles Van Depoele died in 1892.

Physical Location


Immediate Source of Acquisition

The Charles Van Depoele papers were received by Baker Library as a donation from Mrs. Helen G. Burke of Salem, Massachusetts in November 1978.

Processing Information

Photographs processed: April 2002 by Naomi Singer, Theodore Hone, and Scott Tucker.

In 2002, the photographs within the collection were reprocessed. They were removed from their original box and rearranged according to size and theme. A typed transcription of the earlier hand-written list of photographs can be found in the control folder.

Van Depoele, Charles J., 1846-1892. Charles Van Depoele Papers, 1877-1946: A Finding Aid
Baker Library
Description rules
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Baker Library Special Collections, Harvard Business School, Harvard University Repository

Baker Library Special Collections holds unique resources that focus on the evolution of business and industry, as well as the records of the Harvard Business School, documenting the institution's development over the last century. These rich and varied collections support research in a diverse range of fields such as business, economic, social and cultural history as well as the history of science and technology.

Baker Library | Bloomberg Center
Soldiers Field Road
Boston MA 01263 USA
(617) 495-6411