Born in 1832 in Germany, Nicolaus August Otto invented the first practical alternative to the steam engine - the first successful four-stroke cycle engine. Otto built his first four-stroke engine in 1861. Then, in partnership with German industrialist Eugen Langen, they improved the design and won a gold medal at the World Exposition in Paris of 1867.
In 1876, Otto, then a traveling salesman, chanced upon a newspaper account of the Lenoir internal combustion engine. Before year's end, Otto had built an internal combustion engine, utilizing a four-stroke piston cycle. Now called the 'Otto cycle' in his honor, the design called for four strokes of a piston to draw in and compress a gas-air mixture within a cylinder resulting in an internal explosion. He received patent #365,701 for his gas-motor engine. Because of its reliability, efficiency, and relative quietness, more than 30,000 Otto cycle engines were built in the next 10 years. He also developed low-voltage magneto ignition systems for his engines, allowing a much greater ease in starting.
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