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.
The Bureau International des Expositions (BIE) is the intergovernmental organisation in charge of overseeing and regulating World Expos, Specialised Expos, Horticultural Expos and the Triennale di Milano.