A to Z of Innovations at Expos: Gas engine

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From the mid 19th century, industrial advancements led to a race to develop higher performance engines in order to move beyond the practical constraints of coal-powered steam engines. At Expo 1867 Paris, much of the focus was on the gas engine, where a newcomer – the Otto-Langen atmospheric engine – drew praise for its innovative efficiency.

The new creation – an improvement on the Lenoir engine developed in 1860, was the result of a partnership between Nikolaus Otto and Eugen Langen. The ‘atmospheric engine’, as it was named by its inventors, consisted of a Grecian-Ionic column that formed a single cylinder, connected to a piston. This was attached to a rack gear, extended out vertically above the engine. It was the world’s first four-stroke engine, and – crucially for industry – it consumed half the gas of other engines with the same power.

Eclipsing the Lenoir engine, which was also displayed at Expo 1867, the Otto-Langen atmospheric engine received the Grand Prix and led to its serial production, with the company manufacturing thousands of models in the following years. The success of the atmospheric engine – the predecessor to the modern internal combustion engine – revolutionised industry and transport for decades to come.

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