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 Nicolaus August Otto 2


1876 experimental/parts engine, 6.1 liters, 2 kW (3 hp) at 180 rpm


kfz-tech.de/PGe126

So someone believed so much in his latest invention that he gave up his job. Although this would not provide any satisfactory results for years to come, and in principle only survive in the memory of the inventor himself. Luckily, he remembered an existing machine and made significant improvements at it.

But slowly he was running out of money. There was luck in disguise in the form of the engineer Eugen Langen, son of a very successful sugar manufacturer. Langen had already earned money with his own ideas and was at least so enthusiastic about Otto's new creation, the atmospheric gas engine, that a small factory was set up in Servasgasse on the left bank of the Rhine in 1864 to manufacture it.

The engine was even sold, but it turned out that the further away and thus from the scope of the new company, the greater the risk of its failure. So it needed the special attention of its manufacturers or the new owners, not a good basis for resounding success. Time passed during which zealous efforts were made to improve the engine.

Whether the 1867 world exhibition originally was intended to present the new version of the engine? However, one was almost completely overlooked because with the Lenoir engine, which had been produced many times since 1860, one probably felt that one was sufficiently supplied with it. Luckily there is a Prussian expert among the judges (Germany doesn't exist yet!). He put the vehicle through its paces, including endurance testing and consumption measurement.

Lo and behold, consumption was a third of city gas compared to Lenoir. France was once again ruled by an emperor namely Napoleon III. In his presence, the engine designed by Otto was awarded the gold medal. Of course, this resulted in such an increase in the flood of orders that a new and much larger factory had to be built on the right bank of the Rhine as early as 1869.

There were two important changes associated with the new factory as the story progressed. On the one hand, the additional sponsors needed to finance this and, on the other hand, a manager for the significantly expanded production in the persona of Gottlieb Daimler. He also took care of additional extensions, while Wilhelm Maybach was hired to implement improvements to the engine itself, including an increase in power from 2 to 3 hp.

And this is exactly where the basic idea lay, that if atmospheric pressure provides the momentum of a machine, an absolutely necessary, significant improvement in performance is practically impossible. It was thanks to Nicolaus Otto that he found a way out of the dilemma. He did not necessarily have the approval of Daimler, who was still presenting plans for improving the old one at the time the new four-stroke engine was presented.

Allegedly, Otto had solved the problems of the construction that was probably almost always in his head by means of curling smoke. One has been tempted to claim that he was the inventor of the stratified charge, but he is more likely to have achieved the hard combustion shocks by deliberately leaning the mixture. And so the engine was born 13 years after his miscarriage in 1875 and was ready for presentation just under a year later.

In 1876 the atmospheric gas engine was phased out after 2,649 examples had been produced, 5,000 along with those produced under license.

Although the new one didn't necessarily have more power than the old one at first, the enormous future potential increase in economy and performance was foreseeable. The construction drawings already took into account performances of up to 8 hp. Back then, who would have thought that in 2020, for example, there would be over a billion engines that work on the four-stroke principle.


So far, one of those involved has come up short, Eugen Langen (picture above). He seemed to be something like a cool head (Chairman of the Board) of the very rapidly developing company. He often had to mediate between the two different characters of Daimler and Otto. The latter also weakened because he felt that he was not recognized enough in the company.

Additional investors were needed for the enormous expansions. The father's inheritance after his death in 1869 enabled Langen and his two brothers to make considerable investments. Among other things, Gottlieb Daimler also secured permanent royalties as plant manager, which later facilitated the work on a significantly smaller version of the four-stroke engine together with Wilhelm Maybach.

Although Otto was commercial director, he only held 10 percent of the shares in the company, which only existed because of his ideas. Langen also thought it necessary to upgrade his position. Langen also thought it necessary to upgrade his position. He and his brothers gave up so many shares in favor of Otto that he got 21 percent. Later, Otto not only referred to him as a business partner, but also as his best friend.


Here is an advertisement from a later time. Otto had promised Langen that he would sufficiently publicly associate his name with the four-stroke engine. The slogan 'Otto's new motor' obviously also came from him. However, Otto also urgently needed support because a wave of patent challenges swept over him.

This is probably always the case and shows how highly the invention is valued. In some cases, lawyers have presented previous inventions or even publications, although their authors did not want to file any claims. In addition, companies that built the four-stroke engine with slight modifications had to be admonished, because the Deutz gas engine factory in Germany did not grant any patents.

Since the beginning of 1884, the patents on the four-stroke engine have been annulled. Interesting that Daimler's patent on its gas engine was granted in late 1883. After all, Germany already existed. And the patent for Benz's tricycle with a four-stroke engine dates from the beginning of 1886. Like Nicolaus Otto, Rudolf Diesel later suffered badly from the patent disputes too.

However, Otto also received incredible honors. There was the World Exhibition in Paris in 1878, where his engine surpassed all existing internal combustion engines in the world. And the honorary doctorate from the University of Würzburg in 1882, which he initially politely declined because he thought there were others more worthy than him, since he had only attended the 'Realschule' (secondary school). Finally, in 1946, the Association of German Engineers adopted the designation 'Ottomotor' as part of the German industrial standard.

And then he had managed to pull off another clou. Because he always wanted to make his engine more location-independent and switch to liquid fuel, he needed an electric ignition. He is credited with inventing the breakaway ignition, although others held the German patents. Preliminary work on the high-voltage magneto ignition is said to have taken place in the Deutz gas engine factory.

On this occasion, contact was made with Siemens and apparently they were also connected with Bosch. A man who later became very famous gave a guest performance for a good two years from 1907, Ettore Bugatti. He had been hired to set up automobile production with the four-stroke engine. But, his approaches were too expensive for the superiors in Deutz.

Yes, one made much money with the production of four-stroke engines, paying dividends of up to an incredible 95 percent. After just five years, the performance, e.g. as a two-cylinder, had increased more than tenfold. Now the engine was slowly becoming interesting for larger applications, e.g. the generation of electricity. The picture of Cologne Cathedral, which was lit up by a four-stroke motor at the inauguration in 1880, still hangs in the Deutzer Museum today.

All that remains is to report about separations. At some point things couldn't go any further with Daimler: termination of contract in mid-1882, good severance pay, but also a temporary ban on working in the area previously worked on. It is said of Maybach that he might have stayed if he had been asked. Today we know that Daimler did not necessarily comply with the conditions.

Nicolaus August Otto died in 1891, barely surviving Gottlieb Daimler, and Eugen Langen four years later. Apparently there is a memorial for both of them in Deutz with the four-stroke engine on a plinth in front of the train station. The local vocational college, only for automotive students, also bears his name. But the engine, with its various developments, deserves its own chapter. And Otto's son Gustav appears in the chapter about BMW.

Nicolaus August Otto . . .



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