Gas engine, Otto-Langen vertical free piston atmospheric, cast iron / steel / bronze, made by N A Otto & Co, Cologne, Germany, 1867-1868
From the mid 19th century, gas engines were developed as feasible alternatives to steam engines, particularly for small power requirements as in workshops, warehouses, printing works and the food industry. Their development was spurred by the establishment of gasworks and pipelines to deliver coal gas throughout many cities.
The Otto-Langen free piston atmospheric gas engine was patented in 1866 and awarded the Grand Prize at the Paris Exposition of 1867 for being the most efficient gas engine ever produced. It became the world's first commercially successful internal combustion engine. About 2650 engines were manufactured in Germany until 1878, when Otto exhibited his silent gas engine at another Paris Exposition.
The engine shown at the Paris Exposition in 1867 had a 'Grecian Ionic' column (which was manufactured until 1872) and vertical crosshead guide rods. These guide rod engines were manufactured for only a few years. In the early years, two slide valves were utilised. Earlier engines of this type had not proven successful due to excessive friction and wear on the components; the roller-wedge clutch utilised by Otto is thus regarded as an essential feature of the success of the engine.
The engine is most likely to be one of the first ten manufactured by N A Otto & Co and is probably older than most of the remaining ones. Only four of the original Grecian column version are known to have survived, with one being owned by the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC and another by the Rough and Tumble Engineers Historical Association of Kinzers PA.
A major disadvantage of the free piston engine was the noise and vibration when it was running. When the piston shot up after the gas explosion, the recoil force was transmitted directly to the engine foundations. This was so much of a concern that the engine could only be used in ground level installations.
Bryan Donkin Jr, 'Gas, Oil, and Air Engines', Charles Griffin & Co, London, 1894
Sigvard Strandh, 'Machines, an Illustrated History', Rigby, Adelaide, 1979
Wayne Grenning, 'In the Beginning: History of the Otto-Langen Engine', http://members.aol.com/wgrenning3/ottolangenhistory.html
University of Nottingham, 'The Otto-Langen free piston atmospheric engine in the Division of Mechanical Engineering, The University of Nottingham', www.nottingham.ac.uk/engines-group/ottolang.htm
The Otto-Langen gas engine was designed and manufactured by Nicolaus Otto and Eugene Langen at their factory, N A Otto & Co, in Cologne, Germany circa 1867. Diesel engine manufacturer Klockner-Humbolt-Deutz AG is the successor to the original firm.
The engine was made available to the University of Sydney following a visit to the engine works in Cologne by Professor Sir Henry Barraclough. The engine was loaded onto a German freighter before the outbreak of the first World War in 1914. On the outbreak of war the freighter was diverted to Borneo and sheltered there until 1916. Barraclough despaired of ever seeing the engine, which he had wanted to acquire for many years. It was finally installed in the mechanical engineering laboratory at the University of Sydney in the early 1920s and was used there for student experiments. On one occasion, an explosion caused the flywheel to spin off and break, probably as a result of the engine being started when some gas remained in its cylinder from its previous run; the parts of the flywheel were used as a pattern for casting a new one. The University donated the engine to the Museum in 1954.
At the 1867 Paris Exposition, tests on a half-horsepower engine at a speed of 81 rpm recorded a lighting (coal) gas consumption of 44 cu ft/hp hr (1670 L/kW hr). Tests at the University of Sydney showed that at a speed of 262 rpm, piston stroke rate of 164/min, the engine developed 0.51 horsepower (0.38 kW) with gas consumption of 3861 L/kW hr (indicated) and a mechanical efficiency of 68.3%.