Werner Motorcycles

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Werner Motors


Werner produced motorcycles from 1897 to 1908. In 1898 they trademarked the term "motocyclette", and they built, and had patented, the cradle frame engine location that most motorcycles now use, in 1901.

The brothers Werner, Michel and Eugene, were of French nationality but of Russian extraction, having left their native land to exercise free speech in journalism. They began experimenting with motor bicycles in 1896 using a horizontal type De Dion-Bouton engine (or more likely a Labitte). This machine was a failure but, by 1897, they had developed a machine with the engine mount at the steering head of a bicycle driving the front wheel via a belt rim, with hot tube ignition, which sometimes caused the machine to burst into flames, especially on windy days. This was overcome by using the new high tension coil, battery and platinum point ignition. Thus they had a saleable product and set up a workshop in Paris to manufacture these machines throughout Europe. Here at last was something the working man could afford at a price of 45 Guineas and, even in those days, hire purchase was possible. [1]

The Werner of 1899 was a purpose-built motor bicycle of 216cc, and had a strengthened frame with special strengthened forks to accept the Werner Freres own engines. It employed a surface carburettor, which consisted of a separate sealed tank within the fuel tank into which fuel was allowed in by a screw down valve on the top of the carburettor. Its level was indicated by a float and wire, which gave one the level of fuel within the surface carburettor. Usually one kept the level at half full, one was also mindful keeping the float controls closed when not in use. Fuel was of 0.680 specific gravity and a pipe led from the surface carburettor to the induction pipe and thence to the automatic inlet valve of the engine. The automatic inlet valve had a weak spring that could be compressed between light pressure of the thumb and forefinger and had an opening of 5/32 of an inch for best results. Air was supplied by means of a twist grip air valve on the left side of the handlebar, indeed the whole handlebar was fixed to the engine via the sealed steering head and air passed through the left handlebar twist grip.

Ignition was via battery and coil to an open contact breaker whose current passed through a removable handlebar plug and a right side twist grip. There was an exhaust valve lifter, two brake levers and an advance and retard lever; there was no throttle and speed was regulated by the right twist grip cutting the current and the air control twist grip. Atmospheric conditions also upset the mixture as did road surfaces. The light weight, smooth operation of its belt drive, and relative economy of the Werner did much to establish the motorcycle as a practical method of travel, although its high centre of gravity made it prone to side slip, especially in wet weather.

During the Edwardian years they were the first, or one of the first, to build a vertical-twin engine, so their influence was widespread.

How it evolved

  • On 22 August 1893, the brothers Michel and Eugene founded Werner Freres et Cie to sell typewriters, duplicators, and similar machines and, by August 1894, were selling, from their shop at 85 rue de Richelieu, Paris, Edison Phonographs, claiming to be the only French agents. They saw a Kinetoscope in September, and in October opened the first French Kinetoscope parlour at 20 Boulevard Poissonniere, showing an Annabelle dance, The Cockfight, A Bar Room Scene, Blacksmith's Shop and The Barbershop.

    That same month they dissolved their original company, and Michel and the brothers' father Alexis and a financier, a lady named Adrienne Charbonnel, formed a new company; Le Kinetoscope Edison, Michel et Alexis Werner, to concentrate on the new machine, and later Michel and banker Henry Iselin formed another company to exploit the Kinetoscope throughout France. It was probably at 6-8 place de l'Opera (where the Werners had a shop) that Antoine Lumiere saw the Kinetoscope, and set his sons the task of making a moving picture machine. The Werners were also involved with a Kinetoscope company set up in Brussels, Belgium, and in June 1895 set up a fictitious company to exploit the Edison Kinetophone. There is considerable evidence that they were soon attempting to break away from the Edison product. On 18 June 1895, Eugene patented a 'kinetoscope' - basically the Edison machine but with a cylindrical shutter replacing the disc shutter. It is also possible that they obtained a camera from Charles Chinnock in America. The Kinetoscope/Kinetophone ventures were not financially successful, and soon failed. The following year, the Werners patented a number of film devices, and produced several different camera/projectors.

    In 1899, the Werners left the film business and set up a factory to produce cycles and motor cars. [1]


Werner had several business addresses over the years, including:

  • 85 Rue Richelieu à Paris et 18 Rue Greffulhe in Levallois-Perret (c.1898)
    6-8 place de l'Opera, Paris (c1893-95)
    Ateliers rue Gide in Levallois (1899)
    10 bis Avenue de la Grande Armée, Paris
    40 Avenue de la Grande Armée, Paris (1898)
    225-227 rue du Vieux Ponts de Sevre à Billancourt (c.1910)

See also Werner Motorcycles

1. An English sales brochure c.1898 states the price in Paris as £36.0.0 and that orders should be accompanied by cheque. There is no mention of hire purchase.

Sources: Bourdache, Graces Guide

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