The internal combustion engine was born in Lucca
The first sparks of the internal combustion engine were given off in Lucca.
The earliest experiments, the first engine and the first patent, dating back to 1853, are due to two men from Lucca: Eugenio Barsanti and Felice Matteucci. But, as often happens, the fathers of this important technological revolution have gone unacknowledged and forgotten for a long time. Their story is very close to that of another Italian inventor, Antonio Meucci, who first patented the telephone, in 1871, but the propriety of this invention was given to the American Bell, in 1876. And also in this case, the two scientists from Lucca have been recognised as the fathers of this invention only after being forgotten by all for a long period. For over a century, students were taught that the internal combustion engine was born from the studies and the researches of two German scientists, Otto and Langen, who obtained a patent in 1867.
BUT TODAY, HISTORY FINALLY RECOGNISES THE MERITS OF BARSANTI AND MATTEUCCI.
Thanks also to the efforts of an institution born and located in Lucca, the Barsanti and Matteucci Foundation, the work of these scientists is recognised and honoured also in the foreign halls of science.
In 2004, the Deutsches Museum of Munich has hosted the life-size prototype of the first internal combustion engine built in 1854 – by a company called Benini, today Nuovo Pignone – and designed by Barsanti and Matteucci, which was installed in the “Maria Antonia” railway station in Florence. This engine was placed in a XIX-century workshop in the station, and actuated a drill and a pair of shears. It is a gravity-atmosphere, two-cylinder vertical engine, in line with the English certificate of May 13th, 1854, with deferred return stroke; this 5 horse-power engine is fed by a fuel comprised of air and illuminating gas, and started by an electrical spark.
THIS PROTOTYPE WILL BE ON DEMONSTRATION IN THE HALL DEDICATED TO ENGINES IN THE DEUTSCHES MUSEUM; once the different authorship of this invention was ascertained, the organisers modified all the explanatory texts present in the large section of the museum dedicated to the history of engines.
Talking about internal combustion engine immediately recalls a wide range of habits and items whose existence would have been even impossible to fathom before the advent of this important invention. Assimilated as part of our culture, today the internal combustion engine represents a veritable “style of life”.
THE WORD “ENGINE” CONNOTES PAR EXELLENCE ALL KINDS OF VEHICLES, from the most common car, up to the modern and fast aeroplane.
But still in the 1920’s, only few privileged people owned a car. Giacomo Puccini, another engine-lover from Lucca, was one of the first who drove at high speed along the streets of the province or in motor-boat on the Lake of Massaciuccoli. Since then things have deeply changed, and much is due to a Piarist father, Eugenio Barsanti, and an engineer, Felice Matteucci, from Lucca.
THE FIRST EXPERIMENTS WERE CARRIED OUT ALMOST UNINTENTIONALLY BY FATHER BARSANTI, DURING THE YEARS IN WHICH HE TAUGHT IN THE CITY OF VOLTERRA. Through Volta’s pistol, he showed his pupils that the explosion caused by burning gas generates a mechanical force and a displacement. But only in 1851, thanks to his friendship and professional collaboration in the technical scientific field with the engineer Felice Matteucci, did the veritable research and experiments begin. The two scientists started with a cast-iron cylinder with a piston and valves, through which they studied the effects of some explosive mixtures, such as oxygen and hydrogen, air and hydrogen, air and illuminating gas.
Such experiments were very useful to understand the reaction of the piston and the issue of exhaust gas escape.
THE MIXTURE WAS LIGHTED THROUGH AN ELECTRICAL SPARK OR A GAS FLAME, but later the first solution prevailed. The two scientists discovered that the force caused by the combustion transmitted a propelling force to the piston, which would reach its limit stroke only under two conditions: a high quantity of gas used, and with the piston as free as possible during the upstroke.
Furthermore, they observed that when the piston reached its limit stroke, it went rapidly and spontaneously back. They concluded that this was caused by gas condensation creating a vacuum; so atmospheric pressure made the piston return to its position. This was a vertical engine with free piston: the burst in the combustion chamber was caused by the air and illuminating gas mixture; the piston was propelled and, due to the resulting depression in the cylinder, it returned back controlled by a special rack device. These were the phases of a complete engine stroke.
AFTER CREATING A PROTOTYPE OF THEIR ENGINE, BARSANTI AND MATTEUCCI DECIDED TO PATENT THEIR INVENTION TO PREVENT SOMEONE ELSE FROM COPYING ITS PRINCIPLES AND, CONSEQUENTLY, STEALING THE AUTHORSHIP. So they applied for a patent in England, at the time the leading European country in the fields of trade and industry.
They motivated their application by explaining that their engine was absolutely original both for its principle and its mechanical system: it used a gas explosion to create a motive power.
On June 12th, 1854, they obtained the patent, the No. 1072, which was published on the London Morning Journal under the title: “Specifications of Eugene Barsanti and Felix Matteucci obtaining Motive Power by the Explosion of Gases”.
TIME SEEMS TO HAVE FLOWN BY FROM THAT MOMENT, 150 YEARS AGO, ONWARDS. History, from Icarus to Leonard, shows us thousands of vain attempts to fly. Today, flying is something very common and familiar in our society, one of the main symbols of our time.
The invention of the engine can be considered one that revolutionised the world, by shortening distances, relieving physical efforts, modifying the relationship between man and nature, changing our civilisation like no invention before and making our society search for new rational and compatible development models.
The Barsanti and Matteucci Foundation
The “Barsanti and Matteucci Foundation”, born on June 4th, 2003 from the initiative of the Rotary Club of Lucca, has the aims of spreading the work of the two scientists, claiming priority for the invention of the internal combustion engine, promoting research in the fields of engineering and industry.
The Foundation’s status includes the promotion of man’s creativity through financial support to those inventions that need it for testing activities and to obtain a patent. The Foundation will consider with the utmost attention and interest the studies on the production, storage and distribution of non-polluting or low-polluting economical-use fuels.