Modern civilization is entirely dependent on the internal combustion engine. Just try to imagine life without the thousands of vehicles all over the world which run on internal combustion engine, not to mention the ships, planes and other machines which are driven by the same type of engine.
The Italian physicists Barsanti and Matteucci invented the first combustion engine in 1854, but for practical purposes it was a failure. An earlier attempted by Huygens had been no more successful and the later model built by Lenoir was not very efficient.
The early history of the combustion engine is made up of a series of experiments and efforts by such men as Beau de Rochas, Otto, Clerk and Diesel. Also worthy of mention are the Frenchman Felix Millet who in 1893 succeeded in fitting a small motorcycle with a rotary engine with the fixed crankshaft, one of the most difficult engines to build, and Dion and Bouton who in 1894 built a one-cylinder air-cooled engine of a type which was fitted on the most early motor cars. Similar engines are still in use today to drive motorcycles.
Did you know...
... that at the end of the eighteenth century engineers like James Watt already knew how to build an internal combustion engine, but were unable to do so because they had no fuel capable of igniting in a fraction of a second inside a closed space?
In 1673 the Dutch physicist Christiaan Huygens designed the machine (Fig. A) which worked by using air and gunpowder. He thought that he might be able to use it to propel vehicles. It was never actually built. Figure (Fig. B) shows Etienne Lenoir's internal combustion engine, which was not unlike the steam engines of the period. It ran on gas with electric ignition but was never a very efficient machine.
Alphonse Beau de Rochas had the original idea for the four-stroke engine, which was later built by Nikolaus Otto(1876). In this engine (Fig. C) the piston makes four movements: 1 suction, 2 compression, 3 combustion, 4 expulsion. These movements are carried out in two turns of the crankshaft. In 1878 Dugald Clerk, a Scotsman, designed and built the two-stroke engine, which functions in a simpler way. In this engine the cycle is completed in one turn of the crankshaft (Fig. D). It is mainly used for motorcycles. On the right is Felix Wankel's rotary engine. The pistons are replaced by the triangular rotor which carries out all four strokes in one revolution. Wankel's rotary piston engine is used in cars and aeroplanes.
Fig. E shows Rudolf Diesel, who invented a new type of internal combustion engine in 1892; and one of the first diesel engines, built in Switzerland in 1903. This engine drove a pump and worked for ten hours a day right up to 1951.
Fig. F shows a ship's engine room. The diesel engine is particularly suitable for ships. The picture shows a 16,800hp diesel engine (135 strokes per minute). This engine is better in some ways than the steam turbine, although it is less powerful. Engine based on Diesel's ignition principle were fitted on many early motor cars.