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History of the engine

Introduction to the birth and dating of the internal combustion engine.

When describing the event which determined the birth of the IC engine, some experts indicate Father Barsanti's first experiments done during his physics lessons at St. Michael's College in Volterra between 1841 and 1842. We prefer to use the fifth of June 1853 as the official date of the IC engine because it is the date Father Eugenio Barsanti and Engineer Felice Matteucci deposited a sealed envelope at the secretariat of the Georgofili Academy of Florence, containing the memories of their experiences while they were experimenting the transformation of the explosive energy of a gas into mechanical work. The photo shows the seals used on the envelope by the clerk of the Academy.

The envelope, by request of both Barsanti and Matteucci, was opened in 1861. Signature of witnesses proving the validity of its content were added such as Father Giovanni Antonelli, director of the Ximenian Observatory of Florence, professors Tito Gonnella and Emilio Bechi, the architect Pasquale Poccianti, Father Filippo Cecchi of the Scuole Pie of Florence.

Near the end of 1851 or the beginning of 1852 a brilliant professor in mathematics and physics at the Scuole Pie and a vivacious replica rolex datejust orologi engineer and expert in mechanics and hydraulics united, through reciprocal respect and an affectionate friendship, in an ambitious project which wanted to exploit the expansion of a gaseous mix of hydrogen and atmospheric air, ignited by an electrical spark, in order to transform part of the energy of the explosion into mechanical energy.

As Father Alfani wrote in 1931, they "undertook together a long and meticulous series of experiences and delicate measurements, preparations of the device which would have brought them to victory."
The idea appeared almost ten years before to Barsanti when, as a young man, he was teaching at St. Micheal's College in Volterra. It was not an original idea though. Abbot Hautefeuille (1678), Christiaan Huygens (1680) and Denis Papin (1688) had thought of using black powder to produce, through deflagration, a depression in a sealed chamber in order to aspirate water into the same chamber. They were determined to use atmospheric pressure to produce work in their studies.

Some years prior to the commencement of Barsanti and Matteucci's activities, an engineer from Milan in 1841, Luigi de Cristoforis, with reference to Samuel Brown's patent, described in a memoir which was published in the acts of the Lombard Royal Institute of Science, Literature and Art, a igneous - pneumatic machine (which was latter built and worked correctly) that ran on naphtha and an air mixture which constitute the first atmospheric with liquid fuel engine. Barsanti and Matteucci's first meeting and later collaboration represented for the Scolopian priest a ideal compliment of scientific knowledge and essential techniques for the progress of his research program.
The scientific collaboration between the two men was a joint relationship. In 1858, in order to definitely belie voices attributing to f. Barsanti alone the paternity of the invention of the engine and had given rise to an article that appeared in the Etruscan Almanac. The Scolopian priest published a quick answer which is worth its while to be reported entirely:

Monitore Toscano

N.12 Saturday 16th of January 1858

Pag. 3


The invention which truely consists in the use of the de(to)nation of a gaseous mixture instead of steam to produce a driving force; belongs to, in both its origin and its later development to the undersigned and to his friend Mr. Felice Matteucci of Florence, a valiant connoisseur of Physics and Mathematics.

I so declare this for Justice.

Prof. Eugenio Barsanti d.S.P.

During the twelve years of constant and mutual research activity, the gravi – atmospheric internal combustion engine was studied and several prototypes were realized. It was the first real IC engine, constituted in its most simplest realization, by a vertical axis cylinder in which an explosion of a mixture of air and hydrogen or a illuminating gas shot a piston upwards and thereby creating a vacuum in the space underneath. While the piston returned to its original position , due to the action of the atmospheric pressure, it turned a toothed rod connected to a sprocket wheel and transmitting movement to the driving shaft.
The first part of the research was done in the Ximenian Observatory, a prestigious institute founded a century before by the Jesuit Leonardo Ximenes and run by the Scolopian order. Barsanti and Matteucci were always able to count on the Observatory’s director Father Giovanni Antonelli and his mathematical knowledge and the mechanical genius of Father Filippo Cecchi, but in the end, it was the duo’s work – Barsanti with his vivacious intelligence, determination and indomitable will, Matteucci with his mechanical replica orologi svizzeri knowledge, innovative solutions and experience in experiments – who conceived and constructed the first IC engine in history.

The difficulties were enormous. Not only were they scientific or technical, but they were also organizational, due to the modest craftsmanship and industrial conditions in Italy at the time (compared to other more advanced countries such as Germany and England).

Obstacles, incomprehensions, disillusions, and pain accompanied the existence of the two inventors. In the end, the premature death of Barsanti in 1864 ruined all their hopes of seeing their right of priority attributed officially to their work.

The documentations needed to obtain a patent for the internal combustion engine were initiated in 1854 proceeding at the same pace as the construction of the first engines which were continued in the following years as the engine was improved. There were numerous patents, in England, France in the Piedmont region in Italy, Belgium and Prussia.
Nevertheless, before the official documents were initiated, on the 5th of June, 1853, the prestigious Georgofili Academy received a sealed envelope from the two inventors, containing a detailed memoir about their researches and conclusions, that was conserved in order to protect the intellectual work that they had done. Written on the cover of the sealed envelope is “Report regarding some new experiments of Mr. Eugenio Barsanti and Felice Matteucci, by them deposited and sealed at the Georgofili Academy assembly of the 5th of June, as revealed by the written account of the same assembly”.

One hundred and fifty years later, the Internal Combustion Engine Exhibit, which opened the celebrations of the anniversary of Barsanti and Matteucci’s invention, was set up in the same halls which guards the official document of the birth of the IC engine. For the first time, important documents such as the 1857 English and Piedmont patents, the 1861 Piedmont patent of Barsanti, Matteucci and Babacci which was then used as a base to construct the engine of the Escher Wyss company of Zurich and put on exhibit during the 1st National Expo of Florence in 1861, the 1861 English patent and the extensions of the Piedmont patent-right to all the Reign of Italy in 1864. Along with the documents and letters, there are also reconstructions, based on the 1857 English patent, of the counter piston three stroke engine, first system, and the three stroke engine without an counter piston, second system, and, based on the 1861 English patent, the counter-positioned piston engine, built for the 150th anniversary of the invention.

Fondazione Barsanti & Matteucci
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