Friday, 16 May 2014

Men of Yore: Jean Joseph Etienne Lenoir

This is another in a series of posts about men from history who have either achieved great things in one form or another by pushing boundaries: either in themselves or in society or science or exploration of some form. Boundary pushing and growth is what men do, it's their nature: to grow and push outwards. We, as men, are the frontiers men, the first to discover/uncover new territory, in a metaphysical sense (i.e. including both material and the immaterial) that is later colonised and 'civilised' by the rest of humanity. 
Jean Joseph Etienne Lenoir

Jean Joseph Étienne Lenoir also known as Jean J. Lenoir (12 January 1822 – 4 August 1900) was a Belgian engineer who developed the internal combustion engine in 1858. Prior designs for such engines were patented as early as 1807, but none were commercially successful. Lenoir's engine was commercialized in sufficient quantities to be considered a success, a first for the internal combustion engine.

He was born in Mussy-la-Ville (then in Luxembourg, part of the Belgian Province of Luxembourg since 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 without 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 sparks" 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, which was quiet but inefficient),[2] with a power stroke at each end of the cylinder.[3] 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.[4]
Lenoir was an engineer at petiene et Cie, who formed companies (Société des Moteurs Lenoir+ more) in Paris in 1859,[2] with a capitalization of two million francs and a factory in the Rue de la Roquette,[2] 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,[5] and by 1865, 143 had been sold in Paris alone, and production by Reading Gas Works for Lenoir Gas Engines in London had begun.[1]

In 1863 Lenoir demonstrated a second three-wheeled carriage, little more than a wagon body set atop a tricycle platform.[2] It was powered by a 2543 cc (155 in3; 180×100 mm, 7.1×3.9in)[1] 1.5 hp "liquid hydrocarbon" (petroleum) engine with a primitive carburettor which was patented in 1886.[6] It successfully 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).[1] 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.)[2][1]

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",[1] 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 license in Germany.[2]

It may be fashionable at present to belittle the internal combustion engine for its polluting ways (the greenies certainly don't hold anything back) but there's no doubt that it has served mankind well over it's 130-odd year lifetime.  I don't think anyone would prefer to have a horse-powered carriage or inefficient steam-powered automotive over one powered by an internal combustion engine.  It has served man and continues to serve man throughout all parts of the economy: from the collection of raw materials (in mining trucks and combine harvesters); to transportation (in railway locomotives and container ships); to processing (in small power stations and grain mills); to the retail process (in cars); and also the service industry (like ambulances).  It really has done a lot to improve the lives of billions of people all over the world.  Just think of all the farming, mining, hauling that have freed people from labour-intensive jobs.   If Lenoir hadn't had designed and built the internal combustion engine then the world would still be using the massively energy inefficient steam engine or horse-power to get their work done.  Men like Lenoir make all of our lives more productive, both directly and indirectly, by creating such empowering, inglorious, and unassuming, contraptions.

Another point to note is that Lenoir could communicate, sell, his inventions to other people.  This is an essential attribute of his character, without which his invention would have remained in some dusty workshop somewhere, helping no-one.  Men have vocal cords and lungs for a reason (besides breathing of course!) and that's to communicate good ideas to other men.  It's no good coming up with the cure of all cures (cancer) if you keep it locked away in a laboratory somewhere.  It's no good coming up with the truths of all truths (enlightenment) if you keep it locked away in a cloistered monastery somewhere.  Truths need to be shared.  No matter how below us we may think broadcasting and advertising may be, they do have the essential ability to communicate ideas to the world (even if the ideas that the TV communicates are indeed dross).  If you come up with a good idea, share it!


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