Lenoir gas engine, 1860.
© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
This was the first practical internal combustion engine, and drove the workshops of the Patent Office between 1865-68. Jean Lenoir (1822-1900) was a Belgian who moved to Paris, France to work as a metal enameller at the age of 26. Due to the availability in the mid 19th century of piped supplies of coal gas, a compact engine using coal gas and an electric spark to ignite it was seen as an improvement on the steam engine, which needed a boiler, bulky fuel and a large water supply. About 100 Lenoir engines were built by Reading Ironworks Ltd in Berkshire.