If you’re like many Americans, you’ve come to rely on your automobile. It gets you safely and efficiently to your job, your school, or the grocery store. You probably don’t give your car’s engine a second thought — that is, unless it stops working or starts making an unusual noise.
Yet the history of engine technology is a fascinating subject — and dates back farther than you may think. In fact, a simple steam turbine called an aeolipile was invented in 1 A.D.!
Read on for more interesting tidbits about the history of engines and motors.
The Early Days of Engines
1698: English engineer Thomas Savery devises a steam-powered pump to remove water from mines. Just 14 years later, his acquaintance Thomas Newcomen improved upon the Savery pump, adding pistons and cylinders.
1807: The world’s first internal combustion engine makes its debut. The following year, inventor Francois Isaac de Rivaz fitted the hydrogen-powered engine into a primitive vehicle.
1821: Michael Faraday discovers and experiments with the principles of electromagnetic induction. The result is the first motor ever powered by electricity.
1877: Nicholas Otto files a patent for a four-stroke internal combustion engine.
1886: Gottleib Daimer develops an engine that uses gasoline for its power.
1889: The world’s first hybrid vehicle is introduced by Ferdinand Porsche. His name would later become synonymous with luxury automobiles.
20th Century Advancements
1905: Turbochargers increase the power and efficiency of internal combustion engines, make their first appearance.
1926: Robert Hutchings Goddard lays the groundwork for space travel by developing a liquid-fueled rocket. Over the next 15 years, Goddard and his associates would launch 34 such rockets. Some of them reached speeds of 550 mph.
1939 and 1941: Two scientists, Hans von Ohain and Frank Whittle, pioneer gas-turbine engines for aircraft propulsion, which enable turbojet-powered flights in Germany and England, respectively.
1957: Felix Wankel builds a working prototype of his rotary engine, which he patented some 30 years prior. Wankel engines are lighter and more compact than other internal combustion engines. This makes them useful for powering jet skis, go-karts, snowmobiles, and chainsaws.
The Modern Era
1975: In response to stricter EPA regulations concerning automobile exhaust, automakers begin using catalytic converters. Engine technology is starting to address environmental issues.
1980s: Fuel injection starts to replace carburetors. This makes engines run smoother and more efficiently.
1997: Toyota releases its iconic Prius hybrid vehicle in Japan. In Europe that same year, Audi releases a hybrid auto called the Duo.
1999: Americans can now purchase hybrid vehicles, beginning with the Honda Insight. The next year, Prius makes its debut. Despite getting better mileage and producing fewer emissions, drivers were slow to adopt the vehicle.
2003: A fully redesigned Prius enters the market, and this time it catches on. Sales of the hybrid double in 2004, and again in 2005. Eager buyers sometimes had to wait for several months, because production could not keep up with demand.
2008: Tesla Motors offers the first highway-legal electric car, the Roadster.
2010: The Nissan Leaf is introduced in Japan and the U.S. It’s considered the first all-electric vehicle built by a major car manufacturer for a mass market.
2017: Consumer Reports names Tesla as the United States’ top automobile brand.
What’s Next for Engine Technology?
Naturally, these are only the highlights in the long, storied history of engine technology. The future undoubtedly holds many new advancements, particularly in the area of hybrid and electric automotive tech.
Want to stay up-to-date on developments? Want to read more about how engines influence the way we work and play? Bookmark our blog and check back regularly!