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Various scientists and engineers contributed to the development of internal combustion engines:

Pre-Industrial RevolutionEdit

  • 1206: Al-Jazari described a double-acting reciprocating piston pump with a crankshaft-connecting rod mechanism.[1]
  • 1232: Rockets are invented in China and was the first example of an internal combustion engine, though with very short duration and it was very inefficient.
  • 1509: Leonardo da Vinci described a compressionless engine.
  • 1673: Christiaan Huygens described a compressionless engine.

18th CenturyEdit

  • 17th century: English inventor Sir Samuel Morland used gunpowder to drive water pumps, essentially creating the first rudimentary internal combustion piston engine.
  • 1780's: Alessandro Volta built a toy electric pistol[2] in which an electric spark exploded a mixture of air and hydrogen, firing a cork from the end of the gun.
  • 1791: John Barber receives British patent #1833 for A Method for Rising Inflammable Air for the Purposes of Producing Motion and Facilitating Metallurgical Operations. In it he describes a turbine.
  • 1794: Robert Street built a compressionless engine whose principle of operation would dominate for nearly a century.
  • 1798 - Tipu Sultan, the of the city-state of Mysore in India, uses the first iron rockets against the British Army and wins the first war.

19th CenturyEdit

  • 1806: Swiss engineer François Isaac de Rivaz built an internal combustion engine powered by a hydrogen and oxygen mixture.
  • 1823: Samuel Brown patented the first internal combustion engine to be applied industrially. It was compressionless and based on what Hardenberg calls the "Leonardo cycle," which, as the name implies, was already out of date at that time.
  • 1824: French physicist Nicolas Léonard Sadi Carnot established the thermodynamic theory of idealized heat engines. This scientifically established the need for compression to increase the difference between the upper and lower working temperatures.
  • 1826 April 1: American Samuel Morey received a patent for a compressionless "Gas or Vapor Engine."
  • 1838: a patent was granted to William Barnet (English). This was the first recorded suggestion of in-cylinder compression.
  • 1854: The Italians Eugenio Barsanti and Felice Matteucci patented the first working efficient internal combustion engine in London (pt. Num. 1072) but did not go into production with it. It was similar in concept to the successful Otto Langen indirect engine, but wasn't so well worked out in detail.
  • 1856: in Florence at Fonderia del Pignone (now Nuovo Pignone, a subsidiary of General Electric), Pietro Benini realized a working prototype of the Barsanti-Matteucci engine, supplying 5 HP. In subsequent years he developed more powerful engines—with one or two pistons—which served as steady power sources, replacing steam engines.
  • 1860: Belgian Jean Joseph Etienne Lenoir (1822–1900) produced a gas-fired internal combustion engine similar in appearance to a horizontal double-acting steam beam engine, with cylinders, pistons, connecting rods, and flywheel in which the gas essentially took the place of the steam. This was the first internal combustion engine to be produced in numbers.
  • 1862: German inventor Nikolaus Otto designed an indirect-acting free-piston compressionless engine whose greater efficiency won the support of Langen and then most of the market, which at that time was mostly for small stationary engines fueled by lighting gas.
  • 1870: In Vienna, Siegfried Marcus put the first mobile gasoline engine on a handcart.
  • 1876: Nikolaus Otto, working with Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach, developed a practical four-stroke cycle (Otto cycle) engine. The German courts, however, did not hold his patent to cover all in-cylinder compression engines or even the four-stroke cycle, and after this decision, in-cylinder compression became universal.
  • 1879: Karl Benz, working independently, was granted a patent for his internal combustion engine, a reliable two-stroke gas engine, based on Nikolaus Otto's design of the four-stroke engine. Later, Benz designed and built his own four-stroke engine that was used in his automobiles, which became the first automobiles in production.
  • 1882: James Atkinson invented the Atkinson cycle engine. Atkinson’s engine had one power phase per revolution together with different intake and expansion volumes, making it more efficient than the Otto cycle.
  • 1885: German engineer Gottlieb Daimler received a German patent for a supercharger
  • 1891: Herbert Akroyd Stuart built his oil engine, leasing rights to Hornsby of England to build them. They built the first cold-start compression-ignition engines. In 1892, they installed the first ones in a water pumping station. In the same year, an experimental higher-pressure version produced self-sustaining ignition through compression alone.
  • 1892: Dr. Rudolf Diesel developed his Carnot heat engine type motor burning powdered coal dust.
  • 1887: Gustaf de Laval introduces the de Laval nozzle
  • 1893 February 23: Rudolf Diesel received a patent for his compression ignition engine.
  • 1896: Karl Benz invented the boxer engine, also known as the horizontally opposed engine, in which the corresponding pistons reach top dead center at the same time, thus balancing each other in momentum.

20th CenturyEdit

  • 1900: Rudolf Diesel demonstrated the diesel engine in the 1900 Exposition Universelle (World's Fair) using peanut oil fuel (see biodiesel).
  • 1900: Wilhelm Maybach designed an engine built at Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft—following the specifications of Emil Jellinek—who required the engine to be named Daimler-Mercedes after his daughter. In 1902 automobiles with that engine were put into production by DMG.
  • 1903 - Konstantin Tsiolkovsky begins a series of theoretical papers discussing the use of rocketry to reach outer space. A major point in his work is liquid fueled rockets.
  • 1903: Ægidius Elling builds a gas turbine using a centrifugal compressor which runs under its own power. By most definitions, this is the first working gas turbine.
  • 1903-1906: The team of Armengaud and Lemale in France build a complete gas turbine engine. It uses three separate compressors driven by a single turbine. Limits on the turbine temperatures allow for only a 3:1 compression ratio, and the turbine is not based on a Parsons-like "fan", but a Pelton wheel-like arrangement. The engine is so inefficient, at about 3% thermal efficiency, that the work is abandoned.
  • 1908: New Zealand inventor Ernest Godward started a motorcycle business in Invercargill and fitted the imported bikes with his own invention – a petrol economiser. His economisers worked as well in cars as they did in motorcycles.
  • 1908: Holzwarth starts work on extensive research on an "explosive cycle" gas turbine, based on the Otto cycle. This design burns fuel at a constant volume and is somewhat more efficient. By 1927, when the work ended, he has reached about 13% thermal efficiency.
  • 1908: René Lorin patents a design for the ramjet engine.
  • 1910: Henri Coandă builds and flies the world's first jet powered aircraft, the Coanda-1910. It uses an engine-powered compressor mounted in a short duct. Efficiency is low and he abandons the concept, although his studies of burning resulted in the discovery of the Coanda effect. Although this is the first design to be powered by a jet of air, it does not get its power from a gas turbine and is thus not a "jet engine" in the current meaning of the term.
  • 1916: Auguste Rateau suggests using exhaust-powered compressors to improve high-altitude performance, the first example of the turbocharger.
  • 1926 - Robert Goddard builds and launches the first liquid fuel rocket.
  • 1920: W.J. Stern reports to the Royal Air Force that there is no future for the turbine engine in aircraft. He bases his argument on the extremely low efficiency of existing compressor designs. Stern's paper is so convincing there is little official interest in gas turbine engines anywhere, although this does not last long.
  • 1921: Maxime Guillaume patents the axial-flow gas turbine engine. It uses multiple stages in both the compressor and turbine, combined with a single very large combustion chamber.
  • 1923: Edgar Buckingham of the United States National Bureau of Standards publishes a report on jets, coming to the same conclusion as W.J. Stern, that the turbine engine is not efficient enough. In particular he notes that a jet would use five times as much fuel as a piston engine. [1]
  • 1925: Wilhelm Pape patents a constant-volume engine design.
  • 1926: Alan Arnold Griffith publishes his groundbreaking paper Aerodynamic Theory of Turbine Design, changing the low confidence in jet engines. In it he demonstrates that existing compressors are "flying stalled", and that major improvements can be made by redesigning the blades from a flat profile into an airfoil, going on to mathematically demonstrate that a practical engine is definitely possible and showing how to build a turboprop.
  • 1926 - Robert Goddard launches the first liquid fuelled rocket
  • 1927: Aurel Stodola publishes his "Steam and Gas Turbines" - basic reference for jet propulsion engineers in the USA.
  • 1927: A testbed single-shaft turbocompressor based on Griffith's blade design is tested at the Royal Aircraft Establishment.
  • 1929: Frank Whittle's thesis on jet engines is published
  • 1930: Schmidt patents a pulsejet engine in Germany.
  • 1936: French engineer René Leduc, having independently re-discovered René Lorin's design, successfully demonstrates the world's first operating ramjet.
  • March, 1937: The Heinkel HeS 1 experimental hydrogen fueled centrifugal jet engine is tested at Hirth.
  • July 18, 1942: The Messerschmitt Me 262 first jet engine flight

Modern vs. historical piston enginesEdit

The first piston engines did not have compression, but ran on an air-fuel mixture sucked or blown in during the first part of the intake stroke. The most significant distinction between modern internal combustion engines and the early designs is the use of compression and, in particular, in-cylinder compression.


  1. Donald Routledge Hill (1998). Studies in Medieval Islamic Technology II, p. 231-232.
  2. Electric Pistol
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