The World’s First Four Stroke Engine: From Beau de Rochas to Goettlieb Daimler and the Grandfather Clock Engine

The World’s First Four Stroke Engine: From Beau de Rochas to Goettlieb Daimler and the Grandfather Clock Engine

The invention of the four stroke engine was not an invention that was created over night and revolutionized the world the next day. There was a progression in advancements which be be discussed from Alphonse Beau de Rochas conception of the four stroke engine to Nikolaus Otto’s stationary four stroke engine, and Goettlieb Daimler’s first practical four stroke engine.

The World’s First Four Stroke Engine

The invention of the four stroke engine is often attributed to Nikolaus Otto for his patent titled “Improvement in gas-motor engines”  in 1877. In truth, a four stroke engine was previously patented in 1862 by a French engineer named Alphonse Beau de Rochas. The reason that Nikolaus Otto is often given credit for the first four stroke engine is that Nikolaus Otto built and used four stroke engines whereas Alphonse de Rochas simply theorized four stroke engines. The process by which a four stroke engine functions was named the “Otto Cycle” as a namesake for Nikolaus Otto.

Otto Cycle Engine

The Otto Cycle Engine

The engine that Nikolaus Otto built in 1876 (and patented the following year) was named the “Otto Cycle Engine”. The Lenoir two stroke engine inspired Nikolaus Otto to build the first four stroke engine. The Otto Cycle engine is considered the first practical gas engine and the first alternative to steam powered engines. The Otto cycle engine was a large, clunky, stationary engine that required 10-13 feet of head space to operate. It used a horizontally positioned cylinder. The Otto Cycle engine is sometimes referred to as the “Quiet Otto engine” or simply as the”gasoline engine”.  because it ran more quietly than previous prototypes. The Otto Cycle engine was not built with intent for use in automobiles, instead it’s intended use was in power plants where gas powered engines were beginning to compete with previously established steam powered systems. The Otto Cycle engine was a huge success and sold many units in the next several years. Nikolaus Otto lost the rights to his patents and in 1889 and many companies began producing and selling variations of the Otto Cycle engine.

Specifications of the Otto Engine

  • Engine displacement: Horsepower: 3 hp
  • Rotations Per Minute 180 rpm

The Otto Cycle

how does a 4 stroke engine work

The Otto Cycle by which even modern four stroke engines function follow seven steps. The steps of the Otto Cycle are as follows.

  1. Intake Stroke: The intake valve allows air and gasoline vapor to be drawn into the combustion chamber.
  2. Compression Stroke: The piston is drawn upward towards the spark plug causing the contained gas to become pressurized.
  3. Combustion: The spark plug creates a spark and a subsequent explosion.
  4. Power Stroke: The explosion pushes the piston away from the spark plug, expanding the combustion chamber.
  5. Valve Exhaust: The exhaust valve opens and allows gas to escape.
  6. Heat Rejection:  Heat is rejected to the cylinder walls.  
  7. Exhaust Stroke: The piston moves upward, forcing the contained, spent gases through the exhaust valve.

The Grandfather Clock Engine

Goettlieb Daimler worked for Nikolaus Otto along with Wilhelm Maybach in the 1870s. Daimler and Maybach left their jobs working for Otto in 1882 with their sights set on building engines purposed for transportation vehicles. Together, Daimler and Maybach built the Grandfather Clock engine. The Grandfather Clock engine was patented in 1885. While the Grandfather Clock engine was not the first four stroke engine ever created, it is regarded as a major advancement in the history of the internal combustion engines and the first practical four stroke automobile engine.

The Grandfather Clock Engine Specifications

The Grandfather Clock got it’s name because it resembles a grandfather clock in appearance. This engine is considered a precursor to all modern engines. It is small, lightweight, fast and uses gas injection through a carburetor. The Grandfather Clock engine only had one cylinder. The output specifications are as follows. In order to start the engine, a flame had to be lit under the ignition tube and the crank had to be turned manually for the first rotation.

Specifications of the Grandfather Clock Engine

  • Engine displacement: 365cc
  • Horsepower: 0.4 hp
  • Rotations per Minute: 600 rpm

Testing the Grandfather Clock Engine

In order to test the Grandfather Clock engine, Daimler built what he referred to as the “riding car”. It was really nothing more than a wooden bicycle with wooden wheels having iron support. The engine was able to turn the back wheel via a connecting belt. The riding car had two gears. First gear reached just under 4 mph and second gear was able to reach almost 8 mph. This riding car of Goettlieb Daimler was technically the world’s first motorcycle.

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