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Father Eugenio Barsanti (12 October 1821 – 19 April 1864), also named Nicolò, was an Italian engineer, who together with Felice Matteucci of Florence invented the first version of the internal combustion engine in 1853. Their patent request was granted in London on June 12, 1854, and published in London's Morning Journal under the tile "Specification of Eugene Barsanti and Felix Matteucci, Obtaining Motive Power by the Explosion of Gasses", as documented by the Fondazione Barsanti e Matteucci,
Barsanti was born in Pietrasanta, Tuscany. Lean and short of stature, he studied in a Catholic scientific-oriented institute near Lucca, in Tuscany, and became a novitiate in Florence in 1838 of the Piarist Fathers or Scolopi, who were known for being open to scientific study.
In 1841 Barsanti began teaching in the Collegio San Michele, situated in Volterra. Here, during a lecture describing the explosion of mixed Hydrogen and air, he realised the potential for using the energy of the expansion of combusting gases within a motor.
Subsequently, when teaching in a college level institute in Florence he met Felice Matteucci, a hydraulic engineer. Matteucci appreciated the idea for the engine, and the two men worked together on it for the rest of their lives.
They patented their invention in London, on 12 June 1854 as Italian law at that time could not guarantee sufficient international protection on the patent. The construction of the prototype was later completed in the 1860s.
The main advantage of the Barsanti-Matteucci engine was the use of the return force of the piston due to the cooling of the gas. Other approaches based on the pushing force of the explosion, like the one developed by France's Etienne Lenoir, were slower. The Barsanti-Matteucci engine was proven to be much more efficient, and won a silver medal from the institute of science of Lombardy.
In 1856 they developed a two-cylinder 5 HP motor and two years later they built a counter-working two-piston engine.
Barsanti thought that the new engine was a great improvement over the steam engine; it was much safer and less cumbersome and quick to operate. It was however not light enough for use as automotive engine. The main target was to provide mechanical energy in factories and for naval propulsion.
After some searching, Barsanti and Matteucci selected the John Cockerill foundry in Seraing, Belgium to mass-produce a four HP engine. Orders for the engine soon followed from many countries within Europe.
Barsanti died suddenly at Seraing of typhoid fever, on 30 March 1864, and Matteucci was left alone to lead the business. The development of the engine failed and Matteucci returned to his first occupation, hydraulics.
When Nikolaus Otto patented his engine, Matteucci unsuccessfully argued that he and his partner Barsanti were the originators.
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- "La documentazione essenziale per l'attribuzione della scoperta". "Another request bears the no. 700 of Volume VII of the Patent Office of the Reign of Piedmont. We do not have the text of this patent request, only a photo of the table which contains a drawing of the engine. This may have been either a new patent or an extension of a patent granted three days earlier, on 30 December 1857, at Turin."