Charles Van Depoele was born in Lichtervelde, Belgium, in 1846. He emigrated 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.