92 - Charles LIERNUR (1828 - 1892) [1], LIERNUR - KREPP & Cie 

Hermann Carl Anton Thieme LIERNUR was born in Haarlem (Netherlands) on 12 May 1828. 

In 1848, at the age of 20, he emigrated to Mobile, Alabama (USA), where he worked as engineer in the construction of the Alabama railway and other major construction projects. When the Civil War broke out in the USA he joined the Confederate Army in 1861. Around 1863, however, he was virtually financially ruined, and looked for ways to return to Europe with his family. 

He finally managed to leave the US in 1865 and settled first in London, then in Haarlem for a few years, and later in Frankfurt, Prague and Berlin.

Back in Europe LIERNUR used the titles of “Captain” and “American Engineer” to boost his status. He held indeed the US nationality, but he was an autodidact “civil engineer”. Altogether, he made a remarkable career and his 1866 invention for a sewage disposal system was a great success. [2]

Friedrich Karl KREPP was his business partner and promotor of this invention. KREPP wrote a booklet on LIERNUR’s system and gave conferences on the merits of the system.

LIERNUR’s invention related to a:

Pneumatic method for the inoffensive removal of all fluids, solids, and gases from water-closets or privies and their conduits, and of storing said materials so that they may be applied in the natural unchanged form to agriculture and other branches of industry.

This is the title of LIERNUR’s basic British patent which in itself explains the essence of his invention. An article published in 1908 [3] gives the following additional summary of the invention, which, in combination with the drawings of the British patent (see below), give a clear picture of the technical aspect of the invention: 

By the Liernur system the sewage is collected from a neighbourhood of half a dozen to a dozen blocks to a locally central tank by exhaust­ing the air from that tank, and then opening in succession the valves of the drain pipes which come from different subdivisions of the local neighbourhood, thus permitting the air to rush in from the out­side atmosphere through the pipe, and carrying with it the sewage matter.     

The collection of the sewage being thus effected, it is removed by similar atmospheric pressure into air-tight tanks on wheels and then hauled away for dumpage wherever desired; or, in place of the wheeled tank, a main pipe leads from each local tank to a larger cen­tral tank into which the sewage is drawn by the creation of a partial vacuum therein, as in the case of drawing it from the neighbourhood houses to the local tank; and so the sewage from all of the local tanks about a town is thus collected into a central station, there to be disposed of as may seem best fitting. 

It will be seen from the foregoing that the Liernur system is essen­tially a collecting system. There must always be a tank at the outfall end of the pipe wherein to create the partial vacuum and draw the sewage matter by atmospheric pressure from the other end of the supply tube, whether it (the pipe) comes from the house where the sewage matter is produced or from a local tank, where it has been col­lected, to the general central tank where treated for purification. 

This system must then always be combined with some other system for the ultimate disposal of the liquid of the sewage. When collected it must he conducted away by gravity to its ultimate outfall, or must be forced artificially away to a like point of disposal.


The firm LIERNUR-KRUPP & Cie instructed A. P. JULLIEN, libraire in Luxembourg, to file on their behalf an application for a brevet d’importation for a term of 5 years, based on a corresponding patent obtained in State of Hanover. 

The Luxembourg application was filed on 9 July 1866 under the title of :

Système pneumatique de vidange de villes

and examined by the Chambre de commerce as to its merits.

Experts WORRÉ, ingénieur and LIEZ, architecte, gave a positive opinion on the invention:

Le système en question est basé sur l'action de la pression atmosphérique dans le vide; en cela il ne présente rien de nouveau; mais ce qui différencie particulièrement ce système c'est la suppression des fosses d’aisances, ces foyers d'infection permanents dans l'intérieur des habitations, véritable progrès sous la rapport de l'hygiène; mais malheureusement ce système est par cela trop idéal pour être appliqué dans une ville existante; son exécution entraînerait la transformation radicale de l'état actuel de nos fosses d’aisance, et exigerait, en outre, la pose d'un nouveau réseau de tuyaux analogue à celui d'une conduite d'eau ou de gaz. Pour une ville, ou quartier de ville, que l'on construirait à neuf, et où l'on disposerait les choses en conséquence, ce système irait parfaitement, en supposant toutefois le fonctionnement sans entraves, ce qui est douteux. 

… Nous avons de la peine à croire que tout ce qui pourra être jeté dans le tuyau de chute, quelques vieux habits, haillons, vieilles bottes, pierres comme disent les inventeurs, puisse toujours s'en dégager aussi facilement qu'ils se plaisent à le croire. En effet par l'entonnoir on peut faire passer des objets solides passablement étendus dans le sens de la longueur qui pourront avoir bien de la peine à passer par les parties courbes du tuyau commun;

… Enfin, en ce qui concerne les objets dont il est fait mention sous les paragraphes 8, 9, 10 et 11, ce n'est pas le mode de mise sous sol des excréments humains qui présente une idée nouvelle et qui mérite d'être signalé; il serait vraiment à désirer, tant dans l'intérêt de l'agriculture que de l'hygiène publique, que les excréments humains puissent être enfouis et incorporés au sol de la manière décrite par les demandeurs; l'air ambiant ne serait plus affecté d'une manière aussi désagréable et aussi nuisible qu'il est aujourd'hui aux environs de la ville, le long des promenades publiques. Mais il est à craindre craindre que la charrues imaginée par les inventeurs ne présente trop de sujétion dans la pratique.

En résumé, nous disons que le procédé de vidange des latrines de ville, et le mode de mise sous sol du produit de cette aspiration, conçu par les sieurs Liernur-Krepp & Cie, constituent un véritable progrès au point de vue de l'hygiène publique; mais que les inventeurs paraissent avoir plutôt eu en vue des villes à construire que des villes existantes, attendu que leur système ne s'adapte pas à l'état actuel des latrines, et que les propriétaires de maison y regarderaient à trois fois avant d'entreprendre des travaux de changement plus ou moins gênants et coûteux, et sans avoir une garantie complète du fonctionnement régulier du système. 

Nous sommes pourtant d'avis, vu qu'il y a perfectionnement, d'accorder le brevet demandé. 

The patent was granted by the Luxembourg Government on 18 January 1867. 

KREPP’s promotion booklet on the Liernur system, “The Sewage Question”, published 1867 in London, was dedicated to Prince Henry of the Netherlands.

In the booklet, KREPP explained:

…it is our pleasing duty to state that, by way of setting a good example, the first move in this direction was made by H.R.H. Prince Henry of the Netherlands, who, after listening to Captain Liernur's explanations, and patiently investigating all details, at once recognised the immense benefit to be derived from this invention for his country, and, as alluded to in our preface, not only graciously promised his personal influence and support, but recommended its immediate adoption in various towns in the Grand Duchy of Luxemburg. (Many towns in this really healthy and beautiful country have suffered repeatedly from cholera; above all last year, when that fell disease actually decimated several places. The cause could only be found in their ill-constructed dwellings, which, in most cases, have large cesspools in the cellar, emitting most offensive effluvia. To remove this evil, and to fertilise at the same time large barren tracts, is Prince Henry's chief desire.) 

LIERNUR’s invention was put into practice in the cities of Amsterdam and Prague in the 1870s and the inventor filed additional patents in later years.

Whether it was put into practise in Luxembourg needs to be  researched.

LIERNUR died in Berlin in 1892.


[1] FamilySearch database

[2] Michael J. Douma, A Dutch Confederate, Low Countries Historical Review, Volume 132-2 (2017), pp. 27-50

[3] The Lancet, Volume 172, ISSUE 4428, pp.110-113, July 11, 1908