Biography: Henri & Nicolas Pieper

Today’s biography is a guest post by our friend Robert White – thanks, Robert!

Henri and Nicolas Pieper
Henri Pieper (left) and Nicolas Pieper (right)

Henri Pieper was born and raised in modest German home in Soest (Westphalia) Germany on Oct 30, 1840. He received his technical training in Soest and then in Warstein. Then emigrated to Belgium at the end of 1859. Moving around from Herstal and a short period in the wool industry of Verviers, he finally settled in Liege after marriage. He established his firearm manufacturing business “Anciens Etablissements Pieper” in Liege in 1866. The rapid growth and success of his business was partly due to an excellent decision he made early on in the purchase of a barrel factory in Nessonvaux. Some of Remington’s finest double shotguns of the time have the maker’s mark of ‘HP’ on them from this factory. It didn’t take long for him to become famous for quality and moderate prices.

In 1870 his 6,000 square meter workshop on the street of Bayard and along with his barrel factory in Nessonvaux in the valley of Vesdre was primarily manufacturing shotguns for export.

Forest & Stream, 1882
Forest & Stream, 1882

In 1887, Henri Pieper joined the “Manufacturers of Weapons” association of Liege. Along with the factories Jules Ancion, Dumoulin brothers, Joseph Janssen, Pirlot-Frésart, Draws up-Laloux & Co, Albert Simonis and the brothers Emile and Leon Nagant with an aim of obtaining large government and military contracts.

Montgomery Ward, 1885
Montgomery Ward, 1885

The following year, he took part in the Belgian army tests to replace the outdated Comblain rifles with a modern repeating rifle. He submited two Mannlicher style rifles. One with a rectilinear action and another with a rotary Schulhof action. Both lost to Mauser which was adopted as the model 1889.

He was then contracted to help with the creation of the Belgian National Factory which would manufacture the model 1889 where he remained as a major shareholder and administrator.

Sears, Roebuck & Co. 1907
Sears, Roebuck & Co. 1907

After this, he assisted in the development of a “gas seal revolver”. His design lost the competition for the new Russian revolver contract to the Nagant brothers’ design. But model 1893 revolver was very popular in Mexico along with a revolving rifle of the same type. Very few of these remain and command a high price. Most found by today’s collectors are worn and heavily used.

About 1897, the Pieper workshops launched into the manufacture of bicycles and cars. Amoung other designs he develops and patents a gas-electric hybrid automobile. The same basic concept of the Toyota Prius 100 years later:

“Be it known that I, Henri Pieper, a subject of the King of Belgium, residing at 18 Rue des Bayards, in Liege, Belgium, have invented new and useful Improvements in Mixed Drives for Autovehicles…The invention…comprises an internal combustion or similar engine, a dynamo motor direct connected therewith, and a storage battery or accumulator in circuit with the dynamo motor, these elements being cooperatively related so that the dynamo motor may be run as a motor by the electrical energy stored in the accumulator to start the engine or to furnish a portion of the power delivered by the set, or may be run as a generator by the engine, when the power of the latter is in excess of that demanded of the set, and caused to store energy in the accumulator.”

Pieper automobile patent
Pieper automobile patent

But while Henri Pieper may have been a great inventor, his timing was horrible. The year before his patent was granted, Henry Ford built the first assembly lines in Detroit to produce the Ford Model T, the first affordable, mass-production car. It would cement the primacy of the gasoline engine to power road vehicles.

Nicolas Pieper was born in Liege on October 31, 1870. The second son of Henri Pieper and Catherine Elisabeth Leroy. At the early age of 13 he was training with his father. Before his fathers premature death at the age of 57, he took the helm of the firearms factory in Liege while his brother Edouard Herman took over the barrel factory in Nessonvaux.

Bergmann/Pieper Model 1910
Bergmann/Pieper Model 1908

Theodor Bergmann of Bergmanns Industriewerke had won a small 3,000 gun contract with the Spain but failed to find funding to manufacture them and sold his Spanish contract to Anciens Établissements Pieper. Nicolas Pieper had been seeking new business since he had lost his Belgian army contracts to Fabrique Nationale. Nicolas Pieper also bought the rights to manufacture and sell a commercial version of the Bergman Mars.

The Spanish contract and commercial productions of the Pieper Bergman Bayard 1908 are marked:


In a few short years, the over diversification of the company put him in bankruptcy. Nicolas, with the help of his brother-in-law, Auguste Lambrecht, rebuilt the business, and named it “Factory of automatic weapons Nicolas Pieper”.

Nicholas Pieper's factory
“Factory of Automatic Weapons Nicolas Pieper”

Nicolas would also purchase the rights to several automatic pistols patents from another arms manufacturer in Liège, including Jean Warnant. After making his own refinements and improvements, he would market them under the trade names Démontant and Basculant automatic pistols (both tipping-barrel types without extractors).

Pieper 1909 pistol
Pieper Démontant 1909 pistol

The Basculant, also called model 1909 was manufactured under license by Waffenfabrik Steyr in Austria, until the 1930s. Pieper made an attempt to market the pistol in the United States as well, with a prototype version in .45 ACP. Also, inspired by the patents of his father, continues to manufacture shotguns of various types.


Pieper Factory Flyer from the Exposition of Paris 1900

With the outbreak of World War 1 factory production mostly stopped because of the occupation of Belgium. After the war, in 1918 he acquired the patent of an arms manufacturer named Hippolyte Thonon – a copy of the FN Browning model 1906. Pieper marketed this under the name Légia, and produced it in Paris until 1922.

Nicolas Pieper died in his family home in Liege ten years later in 1933.

Ezell, Edward C. Handguns of the World. Stackpole Books, New York, 1981.
Wilson, R.K. Textbook of Automatic Pistols. Samworth, 1934 (reprinted by Wolfe Publishing, Prescott AZ, 1990).

U.S. Patents
Henri Pieper

Nicolas Pieper