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Timeline of heat engine technology

Heat engines have been known since antiquity but were only made into useful devices at the time of the industrial revolution in the eighteenth century. They continue to be developed today.

In engineering and thermodynamics, a heat engine performs the conversion of heat energy to mechanical work by exploiting the temperature gradient between a hot "source" and a cold "sink". Heat is transferred to the sink from the source, and in this process some of the heat is converted into work.

A heat pump is a heat engine run in reverse. Work is used to create a heat differential.


Pre Eighteenth century

  • Prehistory - The Fire piston used by tribes in southeast Asia and the Pacific islands to kindle fire.
  • c450BC - Archytas of Tarentum used a jet of steam to propel a toy wooden bird suspended on wire.[1]
  • c200BC - Temple fire anvil of Cestisibus used to magically open the temple doors. [1]
  • c200BC - Hero of Alexandria's Engine. Demonstrates rotary motion produced by the reaction from jets of steam.
  • 1120 , Gerbert, a professor in the schools at Rheims designed and built an organ blown by air escaping from a vessel in which it was compressed " by heated water.
  • c1500 - Leonardo da Vinci builds the Architonnerre a steam powered cannon
  • 1629 - Giovanni Branca demonstrates a steam turbine.
  • 1662 - Robert Boyle publishes Boyle's Law which defines the relationship between volume and pressure in a gas.
  • 1665 - Edward Somerset, the Second Marquis of Worcester builds a working steam fountain.
  • 1680 - Huyghens publishes a design for a piston engine powered by gunpowder but it is never built.
  • 1690 - Denis Papin - produces design for the first piston steam engine.
  • 1698 - Thomas Savery builds a pistonless steam-powered water pump for pumping water out of mines.

Eighteenth century

  • 1707 - Denis Papin - produces design for his second piston steam engine in conjunction with Gottfried Leibniz.
  • 1712 - Thomas Newcomen builds a piston-and-cylinder steam-powered water pump for pumping water out of mines
  • 1748 - William Cullen demonstrates the first artificial refrigeration at the University of Glasgow in Scotland.
  • 1769 - James Watt patents his first improved steam engine
  • 1787 - Jacques Charles formulates Charles's law which describes the relationship between as gas's volume and temperature. He does not publish this however and it is not recognised until Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac develops and references it in 1802.
  • 1799 - Richard Trevithick builds the first high pressure steam engine.

Nineteenth century

  • 1802 - Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac develops his law which describes the relationship between a gas's pressure and temperature.
  • 1816 - Robert Stirling invented his hot air Stirling engine
  • 1824 - Nicolas Léonard Sadi Carnot developed the Carnot cycle, a hypothetical engine that is the basic theoretical model for all heat engines. This gives the first early insight into the second law of thermodynamics.
  • 1834 - Jacob Perkins, obtained the first patent for a vapor-compression refrigeration system.
  • 1850s - Rudolf Clausius sets out the concept of the thermodynamic system and positioned entropy as being that in any irreversible process a small amount of heat energy δQ is incrementally dissipated across the system boundary
  • 1859 - Etienne Lenoir developed the first internal combustion engine, a single-cylinder, two-stroke engine with electric ignition of illumination gas (not gasoline).
  • 1877 - Theorist Ludwig Boltzmann visualized a probabilistic way to measure the entropy of an ensemble of ideal gas particles, in which he defined entropy to be proportional to the logarithm of the number of microstates such a gas could occupy.
  • 1877 - Nikolaus Otto patents a four-stroke internal combustion engine (U.S. Patent 194,047 )
  • 1884 - Charles A. Parsons builds the first modern Steam turbine.
  • 1886 - Herbert Akroyd Stuart builds the prototype Hot bulb engine, an oil fueled Homogeneous Charge Compression Ignition engine similar to the later diesel but with a lower compression ratio and running on a fuel air mixture.
  • 1892 - Rudolf Diesel patents the Diesel engine (U.S. Patent 608,845 ) where a high compression ratio generates hot gas which then ignites an injected fuel.

Twentieth century

  • 1909, the Dutch physicist Heike Kamerlingh Onnes develops the concept of enthalpy for the measure of the "useful" work that can be obtained from a closed thermodynamic system at a constant pressure.
  • 1929 - Felix Wankel patents the Wankel rotary engine (U.S. Patent 2,988,008 )
  • 1937 - Hans von Ohain builds a gas turbine
  • 1950s - The Philips company develop the Stirling-cycle Stirling cryocooler which converts mechanical energy to a temperature difference.

See also

  • Timeline of rocket and missile technology - Rockets can be considered to be heat engines. The heat of their exhaust gases is converted into mechanical energy.
  • History of thermodynamics


  • The Growth Of The Steam-Engine Robert H. Thurston, A. M., C. E., New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1878.


  1. ^ Hellemans, Alexander; et al (1991). ""The Timetables of Science: A Chronology of the Most Important People and Events in the History of Science"". New York: Touchstone/Simon & Schuster, Inc., 1991.
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Timeline_of_heat_engine_technology". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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