Engines through Time

I have a large number of images of engines of all sizes and types and thought it would be good to try and lay them out versus time.

c. 10–70 AD

Heron’s Aeolipile reaction steam engine.


Newcomen engine – or atmospheric engine was invented by Thomas Newcomen. This was the first practical engine to turn steam into mechanical work. This first practical engine was produced in the hundreds.


Steam condenser – James Watt made a significant improvement on the Newcomen engine design with a separate chamber to condense the steam apart from the piston, and to maintain the temperature of the cylinder at the same temperature as the injected steam by surrounding it with a steam jacket.


Boring machine – John Wilkinson invented a boring machine in which the shaft that held the cutting tool extended through the cylinder and was supported on both ends. This was a significant improvement and enable the accurate machining of a cast iron cylinder and matching piston, thus enabling John Wilkinson to bore the cylinder for Boulton & Watt’s first commercial engine


Crank – James Pickard invents the crank and flywheel, thus allowing the Newcomen engine to deliver a rotating motion.


Sun and planet gear – invented by Boulton and Watt to circumvent the crank patent as they adamantly opposed cross-licensing their condenser technology.


Parallel motion – an invention of James Watt and one that he was said to be most proud of. This was essential in double-acting engines as it produced the straight line motion required for the cylinder rod and pump, from the connected rocking beam, whose end moves in a circular arc.


Throttle valve and centrifugal governor – patented by James Watt to control the power of the engine and to keep it from “running away”.


Gas turbine – John Barber patents the basic gas turbine as UK patent no. 1833: “Obtaining and Applying Motive Power, & c. A Method of Rising Inflammable Air for the Purposes of Procuring Motion, and Facilitating Metallurgical Operations”


Stirling Engine – Robert Stirling built the first work hot air engine.


Four-Stroke Concept – Alphonse Beau de Rochas patented the concept of four strokes, with the vital compression of the mixture before ignition


Carriage driven by gasoline engine – Siegfried Marcus built and drove a carriage propelled by a two cylinder gasoline engine.


Brayton cycle – the thermodynamic cycle for the gas turbing is proposed by George Brayton.


Four-Stroke Engine – Nikolaus August Otto built the first practical four-stroke gas engine, the most direct ancestor to today′s automobile engines.

George Brayton – patented an internal-combustion engine that was displayed at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.


Two-stroke gas engine – produced by Karl Benz.


Rotary Engine – Félix Millet patented the rotary engine in 1888 and showed a 5-cylinder rotary engine built into a bicycle wheel at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1889.

Rotary engines were used extensively to power the aircraft used in WWI as they offered a fantastic power to weight ratio advantage over all of the other designs at the time.

Le Rhône 80 hp 9-cylinder rotary engine showing the internal master and slave connecting rods.


Crankcase-scavenged 2 stroke engine – this employed the area below the piston as a charging pump – developed by Joseph Day. The original design still had valves, but these were replaced by a design that used the skirt of the piston to control the port openings. This design that has stood the test of time was made by Frederick Cock, whilst working for Joseph Day.


V8 Engine – Léon Levavasseur patented the V8 engine.


V12 Engine – the first V12 made for any purpose was by the Putney Motor Works.


Turbocharger – invented and patented by Alfred Büchi whilst working for Gebrüder Sulzer. Patent describes a compressor driven by exhaust gases to force air into an internal combustion engine.


Two-stroke engine – Although the two-stroke was first produced by Karl Benz in 1878, the first truly practical commercial version of this engine was produced Alfred Angas Scott as a two-cylinder water-cooled engine for motorcycles.


Inductive discharge ignition system – developed by Charles Kettering at Dayton Engineering Laboratories Co. (Delco) and introduced in the 1910 Cadillac this consisted of: a single ignition coil, points, a capacitor and a distributor. This system lasted for a number of years as it was cheap and simple.


Aluminium pistons – W.O. Bentley experimented with aluminium pistons in 1913, he designed new alloys to add strength and to stop the aluminium from melting at high temperatures, finally settling on a formula of 88% aluminium and 12% copper.

The Bentley BR1 rotary engine designed by W. O. Bentley as an improvement on the Clerget 9C. It first ran as a prototype in 1916 and had aluminium cylinders, cast iron liners, aluminium pistons and dual ignition.


Gas turbine – Sir Frank Whittle patented the design for a gas turbine for jet propulsion.


Rolls Royce Merlin – this iconic V12 engine was first air tested in 1935. It was then improved and manufactured over the next 20 years with over 165000 being built. The power output was more than doubled over those 20 years.

The image shows the Merlin III from 1939 producing 880bhp.


Electronic ignition system – first electronic ignition (a cold cathode type) was tested in 1948 by Delco-Remy.


Combined cycle power plant – the first gas turbine for an electric utility was installed in Oklahoma as part of a combined-cycle power plant. It was built by General Electric and produced 3.5 MW of power.


Transistorised ignition system – introduced by Lucas 1955 and used on BRM and Coventry Climax Formula One engines in 1962.