Christian Reithmann

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Christian Reithmann
Grave (substitute grave) of Christian Reithmann on the old southern cemetery in Munich location

Christian Reithmann (born February 9, 1818 in St. Jakob in Haus , Austria , † July 1, 1909 in Munich ) was a watchmaker . He is considered the inventor of the four-stroke engine . He developed it three years before Nicolaus Otto and won the patent dispute against him, but left the invention to him in return for a generous compensation. The grave site (replacement grave - original lost) of Christian Reithmann is located in the old southern cemetery in Munich (grave field 35 - row 1 - place 14) location .


Reithmann did an apprenticeship as a carpenter in Salzburg from 1836, three years later he started working as a cabinet maker in Munich. From 1841 to 1848 he ran the business of a watchmaker's widow in Schwabing and in 1848 went into business for himself as a watchmaker. He believed that machines produce more precisely than humans and had owned a gas engine and an electric motor since 1852 . Reithmann ran a watch manufacture with ten machines for the manufacture of watches since 1860. The machines were designed by himself, the drive was provided by self-made motors. From 1865 he made clocks with a pendulum that was independent of the gear train.


Engine developer

In 1860 he owned ten machines that he had developed himself for his watch manufacture. On October 26, 1860, he claimed the first patent on an internal combustion engine when he heard about Étienne Lenoir's machine in Paris. The patent expired in 1861. This motor had a 98 mm bore, 111 mm stroke and a speed of 200 revolutions per minute. In his watchmaker's workshop in Munich, the engine ran until 1881. Independently of this, the technician Alphonse Beau de Rochas described the four-stroke process in 1862 , whose patent application was made on January 16, 1862.

Together with the glass painter Ainmiller, he registered a new patent in 1868 with which he wanted to establish industrial machine production. He made further attempts to find partners, but failed due to lack of capital. At this point in time, its two engines were aviation piston engines , one standing, the other lying. Both engines worked similarly to the “atmospheric engine” sold by Deutz AG at the same time .

In January 1872 Reithmann presented the standing aero-piston engine at the Munich Polytechnic Association to a specialist audience. Carl von Linde wrote about Reithmann in the “Bayerisches Industrie- und Gewerbeblatt”. Reithmann worked with an unchanging amount of air between two pistons, which was compressed by an explosion of a gas-air mixture and was given elasticity. When expanding, there was work. In 1873 Reithmann removed a piston, thus doing without the air cushion and compressing the gas-air mixture directly. This gave it a better effect: its engine worked in four cycles.

The atmospheric four-stroke aero-piston engine, developed by Nicolaus Otto and protected by the German Imperial Patent DRP 532 of May 9, 1876, was built in Cologne at Deutz AG in the Deutz district. Other mechanical engineers, above all Ernst Körting from Hanover, wanted to overturn the patent and were looking for a pre-inventor. They came across Reithmann and asked him for an affidavit stating when he had developed his engine and in what form. In addition, an article by civil engineer Wiegand appeared in the journal of the “Verein Deutscher Ingenieure” in 1883, in which he wrote that Reithmann built the engine three years before Otto. He also indicated that Otto had already learned about Reithmann's engine at that time, so that it was not clear what Otto invented and what not (see Hans Seper). Deutz AG then sued Reithmann for patent infringement. In the process that followed, Reithmann was recognized for having built a four-stroke engine in 1873. Eugen Langen , Otto's partner, had tried in vain to manipulate Schröter, the reviewer. The suit of the Deutz company in Cologne was dismissed in 1884, they lost the trial in the first instance.

For Deutz, the judgment was a double catastrophe, because the Reithmann engine was now recognized as a four-stroke engine by court order and Otto's honor as an inventor was in danger. In order to initially prevent Reithmann from selling his rights to the four-stroke procedure to third parties before the appeal hearing, Deutz bought the rights itself for 25,000 gold marks and offered Reithmann a pension for life. After the second instance, he should receive the money in any case, even if he lost and actually had nothing more to sell. It was also agreed that neither side would denigrate the other in any form whatsoever. Now Langen set about saving Otto's inventor honor. He visited Reithmann several times in 1885 to make it clear to him that he was not entitled to the inventor's honor and that he would kill Otto if he did not deviate from his statements. Reithmann now suffered from financial problems due to the length of the process, he was a self-employed craftsman and had lost earnings.

Langen submitted a specially written, handwritten note to Reithmann in which there was talk of a "transition engine" that Reithmann is said to have used until the mid-1870s. This engine had never existed. As requested by Langen, Reithmann could not sign it. Then Reithmann's wife died on October 25, 1885, two weeks before the start of the trial, and on November 8, 1885, Langen was back in Reithmann's workshop. Again he wanted to dissuade Reithmann from making clear statements in court as before. Now Reithmann gave up.

He did not testify in court and did not allow himself to be sworn in, otherwise everything he had testified in court in recent years would have been perjury. Instead, when asked when he got to the four-stroke process, he said he did not know and apologized with “technical ignorance”, even though he had been building engines for 30 years. He lost the trial in November 1885, which on other points dragged on until December 18, 1894, in the second instance and suffered so much from self-denial that one had to fear for his life.

Reithmann took the money, Deutz kept the rights and the honor. Nicolaus Otto (died 1891) went down in history thanks to his friend Langen, while Reithmann fell into oblivion and was subsequently portrayed by the Deutz company in a derogatory way that does not do his person justice. Deutz had been able to keep this story a secret until 1949, when Arnold Langen published the Reithmann trials in the book: Nicolaus August Otto - the creator of the internal combustion engine .

Awards and recognitions


  • Hans Christoph Graf von Seherr-Thoß:  Reithmann, Christian. In: New German Biography (NDB). Volume 21, Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 2003, ISBN 3-428-11202-4 , p. 399 f. ( Digitized version ).
  • Jutta Siorpaes: When the world started to move - Christian Reithmann and the invention of the four-stroke engine. Berenkamp Verlag, Hall-Wien 2008, 160 pages, ISBN 978-3-85093-238-7
  • Karl Reese: Motorcycles from Munich . Johan Kleine Vennekate Verlag, Lemgo 2005, ISBN 3-935517-17-3 , p. 117 .
  • Felix R. Paturi : Chronicle of technology . Bechtermünz-Verlag, Augsburg 1997, ISBN 3-86047-134-1 , p. 296 (license from Chronik Verlag).
  • Gustav Goldbeck: Christian Reithmann, watchmaker and engine inventor. 1818-1909 . VDI-Verlag, Düsseldorf 1967 (not viewed).
  • Arnold Langen: Nicolaus August Otto: the creator of the internal combustion engine. Franck'sche Verlag - Stuttgart 1949, 241 pages.
  • Rudolf Granichstadedten-Czerva: Christian Reithmann . General automobile newspaper. 1934.
  • Christian Reithmann and his four-stroke engine. In: Leaves for the history of technology. 21. Issue. Research Institute for the History of Technology, Technical Museum for Industry and Commerce in Vienna. Springer Verlag, 1959. pp. 15-25.
  • K. Schnauffer: The priority in the four-stroke process . Working group for the history of German internal combustion engine construction, 1952.
  • Hans Seper: Christian Reithmann and his four-stroke engine. On the 50th anniversary of his death , Vienna 1959 .;
  • Gustav Goldbeck: Christian Reithmann, watchmaker and engine inventor 1818-1909 . In: History of Technology in Individual Representations No. 1, Düsseldorf 1967 .;
  • Gustav Goldbeck: Tamed power, the history of the invention of the Otto engine , Munich 1965 .;
  • Friedrich Saß: History of German Internal Combustion Engine Construction 1860-1918 . Berlin 1962.
  • Reuss, Hans-Jürgen: Nicolaus August Otto . News Office, Cologne 1979.
  • Reader on the history of everyday life in Munich, Munich 1991 .;
  • Richard Knerr: "The forgotten genius" in: Klassik Uhren No. 5/1999


  • Deutsches Museum Munich, copies of documents
  • Munich City Archives, copies of documents
  • Tyrolean State Museum
  • Tyrolean State Archives
  • "Tyrolean pioneers of technology, Christian Reithmann" series
  • Innsbrucker Nachrichten, No. 241, 1905 .;
  • Tiroler Nachrichten, No. 32, 1958 .;

Individual evidence

  1. ^ History of Tyrol's short biography on Christian Reithmann, accessed on July 7, 2009
  2. a b Motorcycles from Munich, page 117 by Karl Reese
  3. Otto honor for the first time in 1946 in DIN No. 1,940 internal combustion engines with spark ignition as. Gasoline engines called; the completely different construction from 1876 is not meant
  4. ^ Arnold Langen: Nicolaus August Otto - the creator of the internal combustion engine. (Source + book reference by Karl Reese in Motorräder from Munich )

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