April 3, 1885 – The internal combustion engine is patented

In the early 1880s Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach started developing what would become known as the Grandfather clock engine, which they patented on this day in 1885. Their workshop? A garden shed behind Daimler’s home in Cannstatt, Germany. What they came up with was an upright 0.5 hp engine, which featured a single horizontal cylinder, air cooling, hot tube ignition and cam operated exhaust valves. It weighed in at approximately 50 kg (110 lb) and had a height of 76 cm (30 in). 

Above: The 1885 Grandfather clock engine. By Morio – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0
Top: A Reitwagen replica at Volo Auto Museum in Illinois. By Brian Corey

The engine was fit to the pair’s Reitwagen (translate: riding car) in November 1885, thus becoming the first full size vehicle powered by an internal combustion engine. Some also claim this as the first modern motorcycle, although it had stabilizers similar to a child’s bike with training wheels. Gottlieb’s son Paul, just 17 at the time, was the first to ride the contraption. He proved the viability of the motor with a test run of three kilometers (two miles) alongside the river Neckar, from Cannstatt to Untertürkheim, hitting a top speed of 12 kilometers per hour (7 mph). He did suffer a slight setback, after the seat caught fire due to the placement of the hot tube ignition. 

There were examples of other motorcycles built beforehand, but all were steam powered. This included the Perreaux and Roper, dating as early as 1867, and the 1884 Copeland. Additionally, Enrico Bernardi’s 1882 one-cylinder petrol engine, which was fitted in 1884 to a children’s tricycle. The Motrice Pia, as the vehicle was known, is often given credit for being the first internal combustion powered vehicle. However, the engine, which originally powered a sewing machine, wasn’t fit to a full size vehicle until 1893.

Montrice Pia on the child’s tricycle. By Daniel Strohl, Hemmings.

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