The internal combustion engine is one of the most important inventions of the past 200 years. Without it, our world would look very different. There would be no motor vehicles or trucks, no trains, ships, or planes. There would also be no jet engines, chain saws, lawnmowers, chain hoists, cement mixers, rototillers, grape harvesters, snowblowers, or chain saws. In other words: life as we know it today would not exist. The car and truck would have remained a novelty in the privileged circles of society without the invention of the internal combustion engine. We can thank German engineer Nikolaus August Otto and many others who made crucial discoveries that led to its creation. This article explains everything you ever wanted to know about this fascinating piece of machinery known as the internal combustion engine from its humble beginnings to its advanced state today
Who invented the Internal Combustion Engine?
The history of the internal combustion engine began in 1864 when German engineer Nikolaus August Otto built the first crude example. He created a machine that burned fuel inside the engine's cylinders, driving pistons and crankshafts to produce rotary motion for a machine. He later improved his design and built a more advanced version, which became the prototype for all future combustion engines. Otto's design marked the beginning of the modern automobile. As automobile engines grew larger, it became more difficult to burn all the fuel that entered the cylinders. Large quantities of unburned fuel left carbon deposits that clogged valves and other parts of the engine. French engineer Étienne Lenoir solved this problem in 1859 with the first engine fueled by benzene (also called petroleum). Benzene burns more slowly than other fuels and does not foul engines as quickly as they do. Benzene became the standard engine fuel because it can be easily produced from crude oil. Unfortunately, benzene also causes severe neurological damage in humans. In the early 20th century, scientists discovered that pure forms of petroleum could be safely burned in internal combustion engines. Petroleum is a complex mixture of hydrocarbons: compounds containing hydrogen and carbon.
The Early Days of the Internal Combustion Engine
During the early days of the internal combustion engine, many people believed it could never become a commercial success. They reasoned that it was too heavy and bulky for use in smaller machines. However, they could not have been more wrong. A few years after Otto's discovery, a French engineer, Alphonse Beau de Rochas, built a large stationary engine. It powered a huge factory, but the internal combustion engine had found its place in the industry. Meanwhile, other inventors built engines to power boats, trucks, and automobiles. In 1891, brothers Charles and Frank Duryea built and drove the first gas-powered automobile in the United States. Soon after, they drove it from New York City to Rockaway Beach, New York.
The Rise of the Automobile
In 1893, the first car race was held in France. It was the Paris–Bordeaux–Paris and was won by a Belgian engineer named Louis Biermann in his 3-horsepower, electric-motor-powered, one-cylinder car. By the end of the 19th century, the internal combustion engine was being used in many different industries. Most notably, in transportation. All types of vehicles were being redesigned to accommodate the new internal combustion engine. Although, the major issue with the internal combustion engine at the time was its weight, which made it impractical for use in smaller-sized vehicles. The first vehicles with gasoline engines weighed more than 2 tons and were too heavy to be used in cars. The first cars were essentially light, one-seat carriages with small internal combustion engines. However, they were not very successful. They were expensive to operate, there were problems with the vehicles’ mechanics, and they were difficult to maneuver. With time, however, the automobile became more efficient and reliable.
Other Important Inventions that Led to the Internal Combustion Engine
- The discovery of petroleum and its ability to be safely burned in the engine. Petroleum was found to be a complex mixture of hydrocarbons that could be used as a fuel for internal combustion engines. The invention of the spark plug by engineers Frederick John Squire and Edward Julius Berger in the 1890s. The spark plug allows the fuel in the engine to be ignited with a spark. The invention of the carburetor was by the American inventor Samuel Morey in 1876. The carburetor is a device used to mix air and fuel before they enter the combustion chamber. Scientists have since improved this design by adding fuel injectors. The invention of the gearbox was by New York engineer Charles Edward Jennings in 1898. The gearbox is a set of gears that transfer power from the crankshaft to the wheels of an automobile. This allowed automobiles to travel at greater speeds and with more power. The invention of the electric starter by engineers Charles Swain and Luther Nichols in 1902. The electric starter is used to start internal combustion engines that are too large to be manually cranked.
Advancements in the Internal Combustion Engine Since 1949
The internal combustion engine has undergone many changes since it was first invented in the 19th century. Although, the basic concept of burning fuel to generate power has remained the same. Some of the notable advancements that have taken place in the internal combustion engine since 1949 include the following: Introduction of the turbocharger. The turbocharger was first used in aircraft engines during World War II and has since been applied to automobile engines. The turbocharger increases an engine’s power by increasing the amount of air entering each cylinder. The invention of the Wankel rotary engine by German engineer Felix Wankel. The Wankel rotary engine is a type of internal combustion engine that functions differently from the typical reciprocating piston engine. The introduction of electronic fuel injection. Electronic fuel injection was first applied to automobiles in the 1970s. This allows the engine to burn fuel more efficiently and with fewer emissions.
The history of the internal combustion engine reveals a fascinating story of inventors and engineers who made incredible discoveries, which led to the creation of this machine. The internal combustion engine has undergone many changes in the 150 years since it was first invented. Although, the basic concept behind the engine has remained the same. The internal combustion engine is one of the most important inventions of the past 200 years. Without it, our world would look very different. There would be no motor vehicles or trucks, no trains, ships, or planes. There would also be no jet engines, chain saws, lawnmowers, chain hoists, cement mixers, rototillers, grape harvesters, snowblowers, or chain saws. In other words, life, as we know it today, would not exist.