A replica of Lenoir’s engine presented at Belval

More than 160 years after its invention, the engine of automobile pioneer Etienne Lenoir found new life in Belval.

An invention from 1860

Raymond SCHMIT

More than 160 years after its invention, the engine of automobile pioneer Etienne Lenoir found new life in Belval.

(mm with Raymond SCHMIT) – He was Luxembourger at birth, today he would be Belgian. The third of eight children, Jean-Joseph Etienne Lenoir was born on January 12, 1822 in Mussy-la-Ville to a peasant family. This place near Virton was then still part of the territory of the Grand Duchy.


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Even if other names are sometimes mentioned, Etienne Lenoir is considered the inventor of the internal combustion engine, which is often decried today. His machine was just rebuilt. The result of many years of work was presented in the Lycée Bel-Val in the presence of many guests, including Education Minister Claude Meisch (DP).

From waiter to craftsman

The life of Etienne Lenoir, like that of most of his contemporaries, would no doubt have been discreet if the young man had not had greater ambitions. At 16 he moved to Paris. He financed the journey to the French capital, which he undertook on foot, through odd jobs. Arriving on the banks of the Seine in 1838, he took a job as a waiter in a restaurant. But the young man aspires to greater things than serving drinks. In his free time, the young man, who is more of a craftsman, works on his inventions. Between 1855 and 1857 he filed several patents for various discoveries.

Etienne Lenoir was particularly interested in the steam engine, which was the driving force of industry at the time. Convinced that it was not possible to develop the steam engine, the inventor then considered how to replace it. His idea was not to leave the development of power to a large boiler, but to transfer it to the engine. In 1856 he applied for a first patent on this subject.

First production machine 1860

In 1859 Lenoir founded the Société des Moteurs Lenoir-Gautier et Cie. In May 1860 he presented his first production machine. The engine has a power of four hp and 380 copies are sold in the following months. There are buyers not only in France, but also in Germany, Great Britain and the USA.

However, the inventor must note that his machine also has disadvantages. It consumes a lot of gas and the heat released is high. Etienne Lenoir developed his invention further and invented a liquid gas version, which was first installed in a vehicle, the hypomobil, in 1883. He covered 18 kilometers in this way, but it took him three hours. In 1884 the inventor also dealt with the four-stroke engine.

His inventive talent rewarded

Etienne Lenoir’s inventive spirit was recognized in his adopted country of France. In 1881 he received the Legion of Honour. He did not receive this highest award for the internal combustion engine, but for his invention of telegraphic document transmission.

The Luxembourg-born inventor died in Paris on August 4, 1900. He found his final resting place in the Père Lachaise Cemetery.

A foundation of the same name

The impetus for replicating Etienne Lenoir’s internal combustion engine came from the Lenoir Foundation. Its beginnings go back to 1978. At that time, seven founding members and representatives of the automobile club united around a common hobby: historic vehicles. The aim was to preserve the technology culture. One of the association’s first projects consisted in reviving the first automobile that circulated on the streets of Luxembourg.

The replica of Benz’s bicycle was presented on July 3, 1986, exactly 100 years to the day after Carl Benz had made the first journey with his invention in Mannheim. The Etienne Lenoir Foundation itself was placed on the baptismal font on November 24, 1987 at the initiative of Germain Steichen. 37 founding members were present.

Parts made in Luxembourg

The idea of ​​recreating Etienne Lenoir’s engine was born in 2017, based on technical plans presented by the Institut Etienne Lenoir d’Arlon on September 8, 1985, on the occasion of the 125th anniversary of the invention of the Black engine. Almost all parts needed for the Renaissance were made in Luxembourg.

The project involved dozens of volunteers, including individuals, artisans and companies. Some pieces come from the Lycée Bel-Val workshops and are the result of collaboration between teachers and students. But for other parts of the engine, like the crankshaft, it was necessary to resort to foreign know-how. The initiators of the project found help in Frankfurt, Verviers in Belgium and France.

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