The Decauville family from Normandy, settles South of Paris in the seventeenth century. Armand-Louis-Victor began cultivating sugar beets in 1850. Later he built a distillery and a refinery producing alcohol. In 1853, wishing to expand its operations, Armand Decauville created workshops in Petit-Bourg where he devoted himself to the construction of steam engines for plowing. and in 1864 he handed day-to day control to Paul Decauville, his eldest son who was then 18-years old. Seven years later, Armand Decauville died. During the same period, the small family property grew to over 700 hectares. Anxious to facilitate the work on his ever growing property, Decauville, invented a system of modular, prefabricated track sections that could be laid on easily prepared ground. These track sections include both the rails and corrugated iron cross ties. Originally developed in 400 mm gauge his firm came to offer two standard gauges 500 mm and 600 mm. Locomotive power could be provided by very light engines or draft animals.
The Decauville System was used primarily for temporary mining, quarrying, and harvesting applications and for portable military supply railways, such as those that supported the front lines in Europe. During WWI the French and British military built thousands of miles of 600 mm trench railway track. The system was also used by the Russian military on the Eastern front and a track was used in the tunnels at the Rock of Gibraltar. The system continued to be used for decades in the future. As part of a financial restructuring in 1893, Louis Paul Waldemar Ravenez gained control of the company and cast about for new markets. These included electrical equipment, bicycles, automobiles for Serpollet and frames for De Dion.
Looking to expand the automobile business Decauville registered a new company as the Société Nouvelle des Établissements Decauville Aîné with a new factory at Petit-Bourg, near Corbeil. The firm would be run by Louis Ravenez, his son. The first car used a design by Messrs Joseph Guédon and Gustave Cornilleau of Guédon which was purchased for 250,000 French francs. Cornilleau was also taken on as chief engineer. The car was a tiller-steered three-seater in the voiturette (cyclecar) class and featured two single-cylinder air-cooled engines produced by De Dion-Bouton. The car weighed only 425 lbs and sold for 3,500 francs. Interestingly it had an advanced sliding-pillar front suspension, but nothing in the rear. In 1901 Louis Ravenez died and the firm was again reorganized with control passing on to Sebastien de Neufville.
Like other early automobile firms Decauville entered motor races at their first opportunity and saw immediate success, with little known driver named Chabriéres winning the voiturette class of the 1898 Paris–Amsterdam–Paris Trail. For the voiturette class of the 1899 Tour de France, Decauville entered four cars driven by Ullman, Boittier, Léon Théry and Fernand Gabriel. Gabriel and Théry, who would later gain fame by winning the 1904-5 Gordon Bennett races, came in first and second, with another Decauville driven by Ullman in third. This was followed with class wins in the 1900 Bordeaux-Biarritz and Paris-Rouen-Paris Rallys. The marque also took the Daily Mail prize in the 1900 English Thousand Miles Trial. At the 1901 Paris-Bordeaux race Théry, driving a 3-liter car had a difficult race but was still able to finish fifth in the light car class. At the 1902 Paris-Vienna race Théry was just able to avert disaster when the brakes on his car failed on one decent. Théry was able to run as high as fifth at the 1903 Paris-Madrid race but for Decauville the automobile business was always a sideline, one that was closed after 1909.