Who Invented the Internal Combustion Engine?
By Renee McClellan
It was the development of gasoline-powered vehicles that really moved the design and development of automobiles forward from the steam-powered automobiles of Nicolas Joseph Cugnot. An internal combustion engine (ICE) uses the combustion of a liquid fuel, such as gasoline, diesel, or kerosene, to push a piston in a cylinder. The movement of the piston turns a crankshaft that can be used to turn a drive shaft and turn the vehicle’s wheels.
Many people throughout history contributed to the development of the internal combustion engine that is used in today’s cars. There are too many to name all of them; however, we will explorer a few of the most important people who had a part to play in the development of the internal combustion engine in automobiles.
First, we will start with Nicolaus Otto. Otto built the first practical four-stroke internal combustion engine in 1876. He used his “Otto Cycle Engine” to power a motorcycle. All liquid-fueled automobiles use an engine that descends from Otto’s original engine.
There is, however, some controversy surrounding the claim that Otto built the first motorcycle. Gottlieb Daimler, who was the co-owner of Deutz Gasmotorenfabrik with Otto, is also given credit by some sources. What is known is that in 1885, Daimler with his partner Wilhelm Maybach enhanced Otto’s internal combustion engine design. The Daimler-Maybach engine used a gasoline-injected carburetor and a vertical cylinder.
In the same year, Karl Benz, another engine designer, designed and built the first automobile powered by an internal-combustion engine. This first vehicle had three wheels. In March 1886, Daimler modified a stagecoach to include the Daimler-Maybach engine, and designed the first four-wheeled automobile.
Daimler continued to work on the engine and in 1889 he invented a V, two cylinder, four-stroke engine. This engine was put into a purpose built chassis in 1889. The vehicle reached speeds of 10 mph.
Both Daimler and Benz were really engine inventors that moved into automobile design. However, the first car manufacturers in the world were French – Panhard & Levassor (est. in 1889) and Peugeot (est. in 1891). Panhard and Levassor built their first vehicle which had a Daimler engine in 1890. Levassor developed the rear-wheel drive layout, and Panhard and Levassor have been given credit for developing the first modern transmission.
The internal combustion engine and the automobile have continued to evolve from these early beginnings to the point that many of these pioneers would not recognize their inventions. However, there is no doubt that the men explored above played a major role in developing the engines and the vehicles that we enjoy today.