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Etienne Lenoir

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1863. Hippomobile.

Jean Joseph Étienne Lenoir (1822–1900) was a Belgian engineer who developed an internal combustion engine in 1859. His engine was commercialised in sufficient quantities to be considered a success, a first for the internal combustion engine.

1822 January 12th. He was born in Mussy-la-Ville (then in Luxembourg, part of Belgium from 1839).

By the early 1850s he had emigrated to France, taking up residence in Paris, where he developed an interest in electroplating. His interest in the subject led him to make electrical inventions including an improved electric telegraph.

By 1859, Lenoir's experimentation with electricity led him to develop the first single-cylinder two-stroke engine which burnt a mixture of coal gas and air ignited by a "jumping spark" ignition system by Ruhmkorff coil, and which he patented in 1860. The engine differed from more modern two-stroke engines in that the charge was not compressed before ignition (a system invented in 1801 by Lebon D'Humberstein, which was quiet but inefficient), with a power stroke at each end of the cylinder.

Lenoir was an engineer at Petiene et Cie, who formed the companies Corporation Lenoir-Gautier et Cie engines Paris and Société des Moteurs Lenoir in Paris in 1859, with a capitalization of two million francs and a factory in the Rue de la Roquette, to develop the engine, and a three-wheeled carriage constructed using it. Although it ran reasonably well, the engine was fuel inefficient, extremely noisy, tended to overheat and, if sufficient cooling water was not applied, seize up. Nevertheless, Scientific American advised in September 1860 the Parisian newspaper Cosmos had pronounced the steam age over, and by 1865, 143 had been sold in Paris alone, and production by Reading Iron Works for Lenoir Gas Engine in London had begun.

In 1863, Lenoir demonstrated a second three-wheeled carriage, the Hippomobile, having a wagon body on a tricycle platform. It was powered by a 2543 cc (155 in3; 180×100 mm, 7.1×3.9in)1.5 hp, "liquid hydrocarbon" (petroleum) engine with a primitive carburettor. It covered the 11 km (7 mi) from Paris to Joinville-le-Pont and back in about ninety minutes each way, an average speed less than that of a walking man (though doubtless there were breakdowns). This succeeded in attracting the attention of tsar Alexander II, and one was sent to Russia, where it vanished. (Lenoir himself was not pleased, however; in 1863, he sold his patents to Compagnie Parisienne du Gaz and turned to motorboats, instead, building a naptha-fuelled four-cycle in 1888.)

Most applications of the 1860s Lenoir engine were as a stationary power plant powering printing presses, water pumps, and machine tools. They "proved to be rough and noisy after prolonged use", however. Other engineers, especially Nikolaus Otto, began making improvements in internal combustion technology which soon rendered the Lenoir design obsolete. Less than 500 of the early Lenoir engines of between 6 and 20 hp were built, including some under licence in Germany.

In 1883 Lenoir brought out a new type of petroleum engine. It found application as a portable agricultural motor and for propelling small boats.[1]

Lenoir was granted French citizenship 1870 for assistance during the Franco-Prussian War, and awarded the Légion d'honneur in 1881 (not for the engine, but for developments in telegraphy), Lenoir's later years were impoverished despite his engine's success.

Lenoir died in at La Varenne-Sainte-Hilaire on August 4, 1900


Extract from Internal Combustion Engines by Wallace L. Lind. Published 1920 Boston.

Lenoir, a Frenchman, occupies the position of inventor of the first gas engine that was actually introduced regularly to public use. This engine was first constructed in Paris in 1860. It was built along the lines of a double-acting steam engine. The ignition was obtained by means of a primary battery and coil producing a jump spark. Altogether the engine was a very decided advance over all existing forms of gas engines up to that time. The motion of the engine was as smooth and silent as that of the best steam engine. No shock whatever was heard from the explosion. The engine, however, was very uneconomical, and the great heat required that the piston be flooded with oil. For these reasons the Lenoir engine soon disappeared. The real reasons for the uneconomical working of this engine were lack of compression, incomplete expansion, and heat loss through the walls.


See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. 'Gas and Petroleum Engines' by William Robinson: Spon, 1890