Serpollet Biplace Course Type H (France) from 1902, four cylinders, 40 HP, 110 km/h
Léon Serpollet (4 October 1858 – 1 February 1907) was a French engineer and developer of flash steam boilers and steam automobiles.
Léon Serpollet was born in Culoz, in the Ain department of France in 1859, son of the carpenter Auguste Serpollet.
He went into the family business with his brother Henri (1848-1915) producing circular saws and wood working machines. It was when seeking to power their workshops that Henri came up with the idea of flash steam generation, with a patent applied for on 25 October 1879.
Leon went to Paris to study engineering at the Conservatoire national des arts et métiers, and at the same time he continued to develop the flash steam concept with his brother by post. In 1886 the two brothers arrived at their best design of flash steam boiler, and then shortly afterwards they went into business building flash steam boilers, initially small scale to power lighting systems and pumps, but soon to power tricycles and steam boats, and eventually to cars, trams, and buses.
Not only was Léon Serpollet a talented engineer, but he also drove his own cars in various races and rallies, for in the first years of the 20th century his steam cars were faster than any internal combustion engine cars, as he proved when he took the world land speed record in 1902 at Nice promenade at 120.80 km/h.
Serpollet’s steam cars meant he had contact with many distinguished customers, including the future King Edward VII, the Maharajah of Mysore, and the Shah of Persia – Mozaffar ad-Din Shah Qajar, who in 1900 conferred on him the Order of the Lion and the Sun. In 1900 he was made a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour.
Leon Serpollet died aged 48 of a ‘malignant disease’, and with his passing the interest in steam cars seemed to wane, especially in France, there were no steam cars on show at the Paris Salon automobile show of 1908. His influence on the automotive industry had been substantial as stated in many obituaries, for example “The death of M. Leon Serpollet has removed from our midst a pioneer in the motor industry, whose genius in the cause of automobilism can only be compared to that of Stephenson for the locomotive”….”The death of M. Serpollet is a heavy loss to the industry.” In another obituary “M. Serpollet’s name has been for a score of years as well known in the world of the steam motor-car as is that of Marquis de Dion in the region of internal combustion vehicles”.