Baron Edouard Louis Joseph Empain
Baron Édouard Empain Engineer (1852-1929) Baron Empain was born in Beloeil, the son of a school-teacher. He paid his own way through his university studies in engineering and set up a steelworks with his brother. He anticipated, and was able to amass huge profits from, the enormous demand for railway rails and rolling stock as the European rail network expanded rapidly. He was also an early developer of electric railways and tramlines, and his company built the Paris metro and the tram systems in Brussels, as well as undertaking numerous projects in China, Africa and Russia. Disappointed by the services offered by his bankers, he founded the Empain Bank in 1892. He also built power stations to supply many of his electric railways and tramways with their own electricity. In 1904 he travelled to Egypt to supervise a railway-building project and became passionately attached to the country. In 1906 he purchased 25 km² of desert outside Cairo and built the luxury model town of Heliopolis, complete with facilities such as a horse-racing track, a golf course and a luxury hotel (now the Presidential palace). He was a keen amateur Egyptologist and financed several Belgian archaeological digs and purchased many Egyptian artefacts for Belgian museums. He returned to Belgium at the outbreak of the First World War, where the government gave him the rank of General with responsibility for the manufacture of arms for the Belgian army in France. He died in the Brussels suburb of Woluwé and was buried at Heliopolis.