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Home / History / E. Lenoir Patents the First Practical Engine 153 Years Ago



It was on a chilly January day, much like today, in 1860 that Etienne Lenoir patented the first practical engine to run on petroleum fuel, called illuminating gas, and air. Though the Belgian engineer’s nascent combustion engines were groundbreaking, they were not big sellers, proving to be too heavy and too prone to overheat to be of any real use in a vehicle. However, this did not keep Lenoir from trying. He did indeed fit his engines onto wheeled vehicles and boats, though the resulting vehicles were never a success.

Forty years later, in 1900, Lenoir died penniless. In the years since, many of his engines have made their ways into museums around the western world.


About the author: Andrew Greene


Now playing the role of grumpy old man in the foothills of Northern California’s Gold Country, Andrew has had a life-long love affair with vehicles of all sorts, from the bicycle he pedaled across the continent in 1991 to the armored personnel carriers he drove in the Army to the bamboo rafts, elephants, motorcycle taxis, ferries and buses he traveled by during the 13 years he lived and worked in South East Asia. Always eager to learn more about how the people of the world get from here to there in their day-today lives, he, a professional journalist, has been covering the vehicle industry for years.


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