Jean Joseph Étienne Lenoir (January 12 1822 - August 4 1900) was a Belgian engineer.

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.

Lenoir engine[]

By 1859, Lenoir's experimentation with electricity led him to develop the first internal combustion engine, a single-cylinder two-stroke engine which burnt a mixture of coal gas and air ignited by a "jumping spark" ignition system by Ruhmkorff coil,[1] 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,[2] which was quiet but inefficient),[3] with a power stroke at each end of the cylinder.[4] In 1863 the Hippomobile with a hydrogen gas fuelled one cylinder internal combustion engine made a test drive from Paris to Joinville-le-Pont: top speed about 9 km in ~3 hours[5].

Lenoir was an engineer at petiene et Cie,[3] who formed companies (Société des Moteurs Lenoir+ more)[3] in Paris in 1859,[3] with a capitalization of two million francs and a factory in the Rue de la Roquette,[3] 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,[6] and by 1865, 143 had been sold in in Paris alone,[7] and production by Reading Gas Works for Lenoir Gas Engines in London had begun.[7]

In 1863 Lenoir demonstrated a second three-wheeled carriage, little more than a wagon body set atop a tricycle platform.[3] It was powered by a 2543 cc (155 in3; 180×100 mm, 7.1×3.9in)[7] 1.5 hp "liquid hydrocarbon" (petroleum) engine with a primitive carburettor which successfully covered the 11 km (7 mi) from Paris to Joinville-le-Pont and back in about ninety minutes each way,[8] an average speed less than that of a walking man (though doubtless there were breakdowns).[7] This succeeded in attracting the attention of tsar Alexander II, and one was sent to Russia, where it vanished.[8] (Lenoir himself was not pleased, however; in 1863, he sold his patents to Compagnie Parisienne du Gaz[3] and turned to motorboats, instead,[7] building a naptha-fuelled four-cycle in 1888.)[3]

Most applications of the 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",[7] however. Other engineers, especially Nikolaus Otto, began making improvements in internal combustion technology which soon rendered the Lenoir design obsolete. Less than 500 Lenoir engines of between 6 and 20 hp were built, including some under licence in Germany.[3]

Granted French citizenship 1870 for assistance during the Franco-Prussian War,[4] and awarded the Légion d'honneur in 1881 (ironically, not for inventing the automobile, but for developments in telegraphy),[4] Lenoir's later years were impoverished despite his engine's success.[4]

Lenoir died in at La Varenne-Sainte-Hilaire on 4 August 1900.[4]


  • Georgano, G.N. Cars: Early and Vintage 1886-1930. London: Grange-Universal, 1990 (reprints AB Nordbok 1985 edition). ISBN 0-9509620-3-1.
  • Wise, David Burgess, "Lenoir: The Motoring Pioneer" in Ward, Ian, executive editor. The World of Automobiles, p.1181-2. London: Orbis Publishing, 1974.

See also[]

  • Lenoir cycle
  • History of the internal combustion engine
  • Timeline of hydrogen vehicles

External links[]

  1. Georgano, G.N. Cars: Early and Vintage 1886-1930 (London: Grange-Universal, 1990), p.9.
  2. Wise, David Burgess, "Lenoir: The Motoring Pioneer" in Ward, Ian, executive editor. The World of Automobiles (London: Orbis Publishing, 1974), p.1181.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 3.8 Wise, p.1181.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 Wise, p.1182.
  5. Hippomobile
  6. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'Module:Citation/CS1/Configuration' not found.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 Georgano, p.9.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Georgano, p.9; Wise, p.1181.