Nicolaus August Otto 1
It is difficult to begin with this chapter so rich in occurrences. Actually, it's not about one, but about two inventions. In addition, there are other people who are not entirely unimportant for the development of the internal
combustion engine and its adaptation in the motor vehicle. It is also not possible to be sure that a sufficient cross-section of those who have been involved in the development of the internal combustion engine has been
made so far.
Even more will crawl out of their holes if one starts to doubt the patents after the grandiose success of a technical solution. This later happened to Rudolf Diesel and it was no different with Otto. But still we have a bad feeling
because in so many countries there were technical solutions for movement with steam, gas, liquid fuel and electricity. But at some point it has to be, then Nicolaus August Otto has to appear in this book.
If only because of the many corrections that will hopefully no longer be needed then. It's like with James Watt, who is still often claimed to have invented the steam engine. For example, Otto did not really invent the Otto
engine. Why? Because today we use the term 'Otto engine' synonymously for a petrol engine. However, we have to state that Otto invented the four-stroke engine, so this principle also exists in a similar quantity in diesel
His first major success was not this, but Lenoir's atmospheric gas motor, which he completely redesigned and helped to achieve a significantly higher degree of efficiency. And yet Otto had not had a technical, but a
commercial education. And to top it off, both his first atmospheric and his four-stroke engine ran on gas, not natural gas but coal-derived town gas.
But now one after the other. Nicolaus Otto was born in 1832 in a small town in the Taunus, about 100 km east of Cologne. Whether the father was a farmer, innkeeper or postman or all of them, in any case he died early. Otto
is said to have been a good student, but left the Realschule prematurely for the aforementioned commercial training. In 1861 he was back in Cologne, where he earned his living as a traveling salesman in mail coaches,
probably mainly in the Eifel.
It is said that his motivation was based on the Lenoir engine invented in 1860. Basically, one was looking for a gap filler. Because the steam engine, which had long advanced the industrial age, was more worthwhile the
greater the need for torque and power. The crafts and small trades had received overwhelming competition from the factories, but could have caught up with a smaller, less cumbersome and also more economical drive.
And if it could have run on liquid fuel, it could have been used anywhere. Some sources claim that the first patent application, which was rejected by the way, already contained the intention of powering vehicles with such a
motor. The findings came from experience with a kind of Lenoir replica that the mechanic Michael Zons built for him in his workshop. At some point while experimenting with heated spirits, he noticed the enormous increase
in power that a burning mixture developed when it was first compressed.
He deputed Zons to build something like a four-stroke engine, oddly enough with four cylinders in order to be able to distribute their working strokes in such a way that no idle strokes were left over. Actually, the year of birth of
Otto's four-stroke engine should be brought forward from 1876 to 1862, because the engine is said to have been running by the beginning of this year, albeit anything but optimally. However, Otto believed so much in a happy
ending that he gave up his job. Again, the sources disagree on the time it took for this engine to self-destruct.
Which brings us to the real problem of inventing a four-stroke engine. There are the much more powerful forces that it develops and that need to be managed. The solution was in the flow, ratio and distribution of the air-gas
mixture. For the time being, however, he had to bury his four-stroke plans. Apparently the mother had died as well, because there were repeated reports of an inheritance. In any case, it allowed Otto to take a step back
towards a complete redesign of Lenoir's atmospheric engine.
It finally ran a year after the now orphaned four-stroke engine. The new one had an upright cylinder, later disguised in the style of Greek columns, in which a piston was initially raised slightly, thereby developing enough
vacuum to suck in an air mixture. When this was ignited, it shot up and was pushed back down from the atmospheric pressure by the cooling of the combustion gas that took place.
As it moved upwards, it had delivered its torque via a toothed rack to a large flywheel mounted on top of the cylinder. It went back because of a freewheel without frictional connection. At some point I was with an apprentice
class in what was then the Deutz Museum in Cologne and a (very old) museum attendant showed us the engine. Strangely enough, today I still (or again) have the sound in my ear, whereby not even the ignition, but the
apparent striking of the piston at the top probably caused the main noise.
If I had known back then that I would one day write a book about the history of automotive technology, I would have gone to Cologne again and interviewed the man. Because during his presentation, he remarked several
times that he had still known Maybach. So, now you can look it up and calculate whether that can be the case.