Timeline of heat engine technology

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This Timeline of heat engine technology describes how heat engines have been known since antiquity but have been made into increasingly useful devices since the 17th century as a better understanding of the processes involved was gained. 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. The timeline includes devices classed as both engines and pumps, as well as identifying significant leaps in human understanding.

Pre Seventienth century[edit]

  • Prehistory - The fire piston used by tribes in southeast Asia and the Pacific islands to kindle fire.
  • c. 450 BC - Archytas of Tarentum used a jet of steam to propel a toy wooden bird suspended on wire.[1]
  • c. 200 BC - Hero of Alexandria's Engine, also known as Aeolipile. Demonstrates rotary motion produced by the reaction from jets of steam.
  • c. 10th century - China develops the earliest fire lances which were spear-like weapons combining a bamboo tube containing gunpowder and shrapnel like projectiles tied to a spear.
  • c 12th century - China, the earliest depiction of a gun showing a metal body and a tight-fitting projectile which maximises the conversion of the hot gases to forward motion.
  • 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.
  • 1232 - First recorded use of a rocket. In a battle between the Chinese and the Mongols. ( see Timeline of rocket and missile technology for a view of rocket development through time.)
  • c. 1500 - Leonardo da Vinci builds the Architonnerre, a steam-powered cannon.
  • 1551 - Taqi al-Din demonstrates a steam turbine, used to rotate a spit.[2]

Seventienth century[edit]

Eighteenth century[edit]

Nineteenth century[edit]

Twentieth century[edit]

Twenty-first century[edit]

  • 2011 - Michigan State University builds the first wave disk engine. An internal combustion engine which does away with pistons, crankshafts and valves, and replaces them with a disc-shaped shock wave generator.[5]

See also[edit]



  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.
  2. ^ Hassan, Ahmad Y. "Taqi al-Din and the First Steam Turbine". History of Science and Technology in Islam. Retrieved 2008-03-29. 
  3. ^ "The History of the Automobile - Gas Engines". About.com. 2009-09-11. Retrieved 2009-10-19. 
  4. ^ The Griffin Engineering Company, of Bath, Somerset University Of Bath, 15 December 2004. Accessed May 2011
  5. ^ Michigan State University: Wave Disk Engine U.S. Department of Energy , Advanced Research Projects Agency, March 2011