Motoramic

January 24: Etienne Lenoir patents the first combustion engine on this date in 1860

Justin Hyde
Motoramic

Like the fish staring up at the shore in the "Ascent of Man" cartoons, every engine on the road today can trace its lineage back to Etienne Lenoir. A Belgian engineer and inventor, Lenoir had built steam engines, which several other inventors were attempting to adapt to road vehicles. But Lenoir decided to use a mixture of air and petroleum fuel -- "illuminating gas," now known as coal gas, which was used in streetlights -- and on this date in 1860 patented the first viable spark-ignited internal combustion engine. Lenoir's engines were pioneering but terrible; they overheated easily and were too bulky for transport. Lenoir tried to build vehicles and boats powered by his engines, but failed. He died in poverty in 1900, but his engines are preserved in museums around the world. You can see the oldest working version below:

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