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, hence Engines through Time.

c. 10–70 AD

Heron’s Aeolipile reaction steam engine.


Bearings – Leonardo da Vinci describes a ball bearing designed to reduce the friction between two plates.


Gunpowder Engine – Christian Huygens designed an internal combustion engine that was to be fueled with gunpowder. He experimented with a cannon placed on end and a piston moved with the explosive expansion of a small amount of gunpowder.


Steam Pump – invented by Thomas Savery, as the steam condensed a vacuum was created causing the water to be drawn into the cylinder.


Newcomen 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. The Newcomen engine admitted steam into a cylinder which was then condensed by cold water and the piston driven by atmospheric pressure.

Repairing this model steam engine for the University of Glasgow in the early 1760s led James Watt to consider improvements to steam engine technology and ultimately the design of a separate condenser – crucial to the Industrial Revolution.


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.


Modern Steam Engine – invented by James Watt.

Steam Tractor – Nicolas Cugnot, a French military engineer, builds a steam tractor designed to pull artillery pieces. It was slow, clumsy and difficult to control and was not adopted.


James Watt – moves to Birmingham and enters a partnership with Matthew Boulton, designing and manufacturing steam engines for customers.

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”


Indicator Diagram – John Southern, working with James Watt, developed the simple technique to generate the diagram by fixing a board so as to move with the piston. Thereby tracing the “volume” axis, while a pencil, attached to a pressure gauge, moved at right angles to the piston. The information generated in this way allowed James Watt to improve the efficiency of his steam engine designs.


High Pressure Steam Engine – invented by Richard Trevithick


a copy of Richard Trevithicks steam engine

Self-Propelled Steam Engine – built and demonstrated by Richard Trevithick.

Sadly he was ahead of his time and the locomotives he built were unreliable or too heavy for the cast iron rails on which they ran.


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


Carnot Cycle – Nicholas Leonard Sadi Carnot publishes his book Reflexions sur la Puissance Motrice du Feu. It also proposes the idea of the internal combustion engine. Carnot showed that the amount of heat which could be converted into mechanical work by an ideal perfect heat engine using a perfect gas as the working fluid, depended solely upon the working range of temperature.


Carburetor – invented by Samuel Morey.


Poppet Valve – most likely invented by E.A.G. Young of the Newcastle and Frenchtown Railroad.


Steam Traction Engine – Ransomes of Ipswich introduce the traction engine as we know it.


William McNaught invents the compound steam engine.


Spark Plug – Étienne Lenoir used an electric spark plug in his gas engine, the first internal combustion piston engine and he is generally credited with the invention of the spark plug.


Four-Stroke Concept – Alphonse Beau de Rochas patented the concept of four strokes, with the vital compression of the mixture before ignition. However, he never made an engine.


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.


Carburetor – first patent for use in a petroleum engine was filed by Siegfried Marcus.


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

The image shows one of Otto’s silent gas engines from around 1880, this four-stroke-cycle engine was built by Gasmotorenfabrik Deutz, near Cologne. Otto had been associated with this company since 1866.

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

Books on internal combustion engines


Two-stroke gas engine – produced by Karl Benz.

Supercharger – the first functional and tested engine supercharger was made by Dugald Clerk, who used it for the first two-stroke engine in 1878. Whether this was actually a supercharger is questionable as Clerk’s engine design used two cylinders, one working cylinder and one to charge the cylinder. The Clerk cycle is the basis of the large turbo and supercharged two-stroke diesel engines that power ships.


Atkinson Cycle – proposed by James Atkinson and designed to increase the overall efficiency of the engine.

The expansion of the combustion gases is more fully completed compared to a normal 4-stroke engine.

This is achieved by an ingenious linkage that varies the length of each stroke to suit the ideal condition for that part of the thermodynamic cycle.


Hot Bulb Engine – the hot bulb engine was established by Herbert Akroyd Stuart.


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.


Fuel Injection System – originally developed by Rudolph Diesel to use air pressure to inject powdered coal into an engine.


V8 Engine – Léon Levavasseur patented the V8 engine.


V12 Engine – the first V12 made for any purpose was by the Putney Motor Works, 18.4 litre and weighing 430kg it produced 150bhp. It was known as the Craig-Dorwald engine after the founders of the company and was used in racing boats.


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.


Uniflow Steam Engine – the most efficient type of high-pressure steam engine and used in ships.


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.

V12 Powered Car – the first use of a V12 engine in a car was in the “Toodles V” that was built by the British Sunbeam company and presented during the Brooklands race. 9 liter capacity, 340kg and generated 200hp.


Six Stroke Engine – invented by Leonard Dyer, now known as the Crower six-stroke engine after the reinventor Bruce Crower.


Liberty V12

Liberty V12 – 12 cylinder water cooled aero-engine. 400bhp, 1750rpm, 5 inch bore and 7 inch stroke. Designed by J. G. Wincent and E. J. Hall in six weeks in 1917.

The US War Department had tasked them to design an engine based on proven ideas that could be mass produced.


Sodium-Filled Exhaust Valve – invented by Sam Heron and widely used to lower exhaust valve operating temperatures, typically by order of 100 degrees centigrade.


Schnürle Porting – Adolf Schnürle developed the three-channel reverse flush for two-stroke diesel engines for his employer, Klöckner-Humboldt-Deutz AG (KHD). The patent revolutionized two-stroke engine construction from 1934 through further development at the licensee DKW.

This porting arrangement made it into commercial model engines around 1968 with the HP 61.


Wankel Engine – Felix Wankel received his first patent for the engine.

Diesel Glow Plugs – to aid diesel engines starting.


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

Ceramic Insulator – Helen Blair Bartlett invented the ceramic insulator, this invention had a significant impact on the spark plug.


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.


Model Engine Glow Plug – Ray Arden invented the first glow plug for model engines.


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.


Exhaust Catalyst – catalytic converter for cleaning up exhaust gas was invented by Eugene Houdry, probably best known for inventing a process for cracking crude oil.

exhaust catalyst


Wankel Engine – the first wankel engine to run produces 21 hp at the NSU research and development department.


Bouland Motors 1/3rd scale cosworth DFV

Cosworth DFV – perhaps the most famous F1 V8 engines makes it’s debut. This 90°, 2,993 cc V8 with a bore and stroke of 85.67 x 64.897 mm produced 408 bhp @9000 rpm at it’s debut and 510 bhp at 11,200 rpm at the end of it’s F1 career.

Bouland Motors 1/3rd scale Cosworth DFV


Oval Piston Engine – developed by Honda to overcome the restrictions of the World Motorcycle Grand Prix series that set a maximum of 4 cylinders. The oval engine allowed them to design a V8 in the form of a four cylinder with oval pistons, 8 valves per cylinder and two connecting rods per piston. This was a complex engine.


Cylinder Deactivation – Cadillac introduced the aptly-named 8-6-4 engine, which used electronically-controlled solenoids to close the valves on two or four cylinders. 


  1. History of Model Engines – from the 1896 Samuel Langley steam engine powering a small aeroplane through the spark ignition engines developed in the 1930’s to the glow plug Schnuerle ported two-stroke of 1968.