Nikolaus August Otto: Inventor Of The Internal Combustion Engine

Story of Nickolaus August Otto, inventor of the four-stroke internal combustion engine, the device used to power automobiles, motorboats and motorcycles.

Nikolaus August Otto was born on June 14, 1832 in Holzhausen, Germany. At the age of sixteen, Otto dropped out of high school and worked in a grocery store. He also worked as a clerk in Frankfurt and as a traveling salesman. He sold sugar, kitchenware and tea to grocery stores on the German side of the Belgian and French border. It was when he was a traveling salesman that he learned about the gas engine that was invented by Etienne Lenoir. This was the first workable internal combustion engine. According to the University of Nottingham publication, "The Otto and Langen Free Piston Atmospheric Engine,"

"Unhappily, the Lenoir engine failed to come up to initial expectations and fell suddenly from popularity. This was due, partly to the troublesome electrical ignition system, but mainly to the high consumption of, what was then, expensive gas. In practice almost 100 cubic feet of gas were burnt per horsepower per hour. Also, the quantity of cooling water required was considerable and the heat generated was so great, that unless the bearings were copiously oiled, the engine seized."

Otto felt that the Lenoir engine would have more uses if it could run on liquid fuel. Otto devised a carburetor for this engine and worked to improve it in other ways. In 1861, Otto patented a two-stroke engine that ran on gas. Otto and his partner, German industrialist Eugen Langen, built a factory and worked on improving the engine. Their two-stroke engine won a gold medal at the 1867 World's Fair in Paris. The company was named N.A. Otto & Cie., which was the first company to manufacture internal combustion engines. The company exists today as Klockner-Humbolt-Deutz AG, the oldest company manufacturing internal combustion engines and the world's largest manufacturer of air-cooled diesel engines.

In May 1876, Otto built the first four-stroke piston cycle internal combustion engine. This was the first practical alternative to the steam engine. In the next ten years, over 30,000 of the engine were sold. This engine was the prototype of the combustion engines that have since been built. The engine was named the "Otto cycle" in his honor. The engine's design consists of four stokes of a piston which draws in and compresses a gas-air mixture within a cylinder. This process results in an internal explosion. Otto's gas-motor engine had patent no. 365,701. In 1862, Aphonse Beau de Rochas, a French engineer, patented the four-stroke cycle. However, Otto was the first to build a four-stroke cycle engine. Nevertheless, in 1886, Otto's patent was revoked, when Rochas' patent was revealed.

Gottlieb Daimler constructed a very light engine, using Otto's model and attached one of them to a bicycle. This became the world's first motorcycle. Karl Benz built his fist three-wheel automobile employing Otto's engine. Daimler also constructed an automobile, using Otto's engine. The firms of Daimler and Benz merged and manufactured the famous Mercedes-Benz vehicles.

Otto's practical internal combustion engine is used to power automobiles, motocycles and motorboats. Also, the Diesel engine is a form of internal combustion engine, which employs a four-stroke cycle that is similar to Otto's. Nikolaus August Otto died on January 26, 1891.

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