Nicolaus Otto

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Nicolaus August Otto
Birthplace of Nicolaus August Otto in Holzhausen with a museum
Gravestone of Nicolaus August Otto and his wife in the Melaten cemetery in Cologne (lit. C between HWG and lit. H) , 2005

Nicolaus August Otto (born June 10, 1832 in Holzhausen an der Haide im Taunus , † January 26, 1891 in Cologne ) was a German inventor of many details that are still used today in internal combustion engines. The current term Otto engine does not refer to the engine of that time, but was proposed by the VDI in 1936 for all reciprocating piston engines with spark ignition and introduced in a DIN standard in 1946. The autodidact never completed a university degree and was later awarded an honorary doctorate .


Otto was the son of a family of farmers and innkeepers, his father also had the post office in the village. Otto completed an apprenticeship as a businessman and earned his living after completing his apprenticeship as an assistant in Frankfurt am Main and Cologne . Otto met Anna Gossi at the Carnival in Cologne in 1858 . However, he was only allowed to marry her ten years later, after he had finally achieved the necessary secure income for a marriage after long struggles. They had seven children, three of whom died early. His only son Gustav became an aircraft manufacturer.


Gas-powered engine from 1876, illustration from the Lexicon of Total Technology 1904

He began his first experiments with four-stroke engines as early as 1862, but these were not used until 1876. In 1863 he built his first gas engine.

In 1864, together with the engineer Eugen Langen, he first founded the world's first engine factory, "NA Otto & Cie". January 5, 1872, the conversion was carried out in a public limited company ( gas engine factory Deutz AG ) with a share capital of 300,000 thalers, of which the founding members Eugene -, Gustav and Jacob Long and Nicolaus August Otto total of 200,000 dollars and the sugar industrialist ( Pfeifer & Langen ) Emil and Valentin Pfeifer brought in 100,000 thalers. For the time being, only the supervisory board members Jakob Langen, Valentin Pfeifer , Emil Pfeifer , until his death in 1889 chairman of the supervisory board, as well as the directors Eugen Langen and Nicolaus August Otto received shares .

In 1876 Otto succeeded in developing a four-stroke gas engine with a compressed charge, which Wilhelm Maybach and Gottlieb Daimler made it ready for series production. This gas combustion engine was developed according to the four-stroke principle based on an invention by Étienne Lenoir . This type of engine is the basis for the construction of internal combustion engines to this day.

At the Paris World's Fair in 1867 they presented their version of a gas engine to the public for the first time. It was an aviation piston engine , with the piston transferring its energy via a rack and not via a crank drive. This new engine development had a third of the fuel consumption of the previously known engines. She was awarded a gold medal.

Until the launch of the Otto four-stroke engine in 1876, Otto Langen Motoren in Deutz and their licensees had built almost 5,000 aviation piston engines.

In 1884 Otto invented electric ignition for his gas engines. This innovation made it possible to use liquid fuels as an alternative to the gas that was previously only used.

Patent litigation

Even before Otto's invention of the four-stroke engine, Christian Reithmann in 1860 and Alphonse Beau de Rochas in 1862 had both received patents on the four-stroke engine independently of one another , which later led to legal proceedings. On January 30, 1886 and 1889, the "Otto patents" belonging to the Deutz gas engine factory were declared null and void in Germany, followed by other countries.

So that Nicolaus Otto could continue to be considered the inventor of the four-stroke engine in the German Empire , Deutz offered the trial winner Reithmann 25,000 marks and a life pension. Christian Reithmann signed a declaration on the basis of which Deutz AG was allowed to continue to call itself and Otto the German inventor of the four-stroke engine. Deutz was able to keep the contract secret until 1949 Arnold Langen, Nicolaus Otto's biographer, published the history of the Reithmann trials in book form.

Also Felice Matteucci argued unsuccessfully that he and Eugenio Barsanti were the original inventors with their engine. 1853

Honors for Otto

In 1882 he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the Philosophical Faculty of the University of Würzburg .

Otto is the namesake for the Otto cycle . In front of the Köln Messe / Deutz train station in Cologne-Deutz there is a monument to Nicolaus August Otto and Eugen Langen , which was inaugurated by the then Mayor Konrad Adenauer . Schools in Bad Schwalbach , Diez , Nastätten , Cologne-Deutz and (until 2016) Berlin-Lichterfelde were named after Nicolaus August Otto .

In the Wellsee district of Kiel , a street was named after Otto.


  • Arnold Langen: Nicolaus August Otto. The creator of the internal combustion engine . Franckh, Stuttgart 1949, DNB  452708931 .
  • Arnold Langen: Nikolaus August Otto (1832-1891). In: Rheinisch-Westfälische Wirtschaftsbiographien, VolumeV. Aschendorff, Münster 1953, pp. 79-101.
  • Hans Christoph Graf von Seherr-Thoss:  Nicolaus Otto. In: New German Biography (NDB). Volume 19, Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 1999, ISBN 3-428-00200-8 , pp. 700-702 ( digitized version ).
  • Hans Leo Sittauer: Nicolaus August Otto, Rudolf Diesel . 4th edition. Teubner, Leipzig 1990, ISBN 3-322-00762-6 .


  • The man who invented the engine - The life of Nicolaus August Otto. Documentary with game scenes, Germany, 2016, 29:43 min., Script and director: Stefan Keber, production: SWR , series: Known in the country , first broadcast: June 11, 2017 on SWR television , synopsis by ARD , online video by ARD available until June 10, 2018 with archive recordings and interviews with technology historians.
  • Stronger than any horse. The childhood days of the automobile. 1. Otto and the engine. Docu-drama , BR Germany, 1985, 50 min., Book: Felix Huby , Hans Gottschalk, Gunther Scheuthle, director: Peter Weck , production: Galaxy-Film, Süddeutscher Rundfunk , series: Stronger than all horses (2nd Daimler and the Benzinkutsche , 3rd Benz and the overland journey ), first broadcast: December 4, 1985 on Das Erste , summary of, with Jan Niklas as Nikolaus August Otto and Eberhard Feik as Zons.

Web links

Commons : Nicolaus Otto  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. One often finds June 14, 1832 as the date of birth. According to Ms. Gertrud Lindgens, née Otto, this date is incorrect and can be traced back to a reading error in the church book. Her father's birthday was always celebrated on June 10th. That means: The entry in the church register was only made four days after the birth, a common procedure, possibly on the occasion of baptism.
    Arnold Langen: Nicolaus August Otto, the creator of the internal combustion engine . Franckh'sche Verlagsbuchhandlung , Stuttgart 1949, p. 11 and 135 .
  2. ^ Rhenish history about Nicolaus August Otto
  3. a b In the documentary: The man who invented the engine - The life of Nicolaus August Otto. In: SWR / ARD , June 11, 2017.
  4. Chronicle of Deutz AG - as of June 30, 2011.
  5. ^ Christian Löer: Horch, Bugatti & Co: Cologne as the cradle of automobile construction . In: Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger . ( [accessed on July 31, 2018]).
  6. Patent DE532 : gas engine. Registered on August 4, 1877 .
  7. ^ Eduard Prüssen (linocuts), Werner Schäfke and Günter Henne (texts): Cologne heads . 1st edition. University and City Library, Cologne 2010, ISBN 978-3-931596-53-8 , pp. 108 .
  8. ^ Horst Hardenberg: Siegfried Marcus. Myth and Reality . Delius Klasing Verlag, Bielefeld 1999, ISBN 3-89880-674-X , p. 194, (Chapter 15: Deutzer rattling monsters) .
  9. ^ Karl Reese: Motorcycles from Munich . Johan Kleine Vennekate Verlag, Lemgo 2005, ISBN 3-935517-17-3 , p. 117 .
  10. Chronicle of Technology . Weltbild Verlag , 1997, ISBN 3-86047-134-1 , p. 296 .
  11. Street dictionary on