Nikolaus Otto dies

Nikolaus Otto worked as a traveling salesman until he became fascinated by his era's breakthroughs in gas and steam engines, especially Étienne Lenoir's development of an engine fueled by natural gas.

He thought that a gaseous fuel would be more practical, so Otto began working on an engine fueled by liquid gasoline. Despite having no training or experience in mechanical design, he built his first experimental gasoline-powered engine in 1861, a device far more efficient than Lenoir's. In 1864 he formed N.A. Otto & Cie, and several key developments toward the motorization of vehicles took place at Otto's small shop in Cologne. The company's early designers included Gottlieb Daimler, Wilhelm Maybach, and Franz Reuleaux. In 1876, working with Daimler and Maybach, Otto built the first four-stroke internal combustion engine, and this design (often called the "Otto cycle") formed the basis for Karl Benz's development of a two-stroke engine in 1879. In 1884 Otto invented the first practical low voltage magnetic ignition. In 1886, however, a German court invalidated the bulk of his patent rights -- a decision widely viewed as unjust then and now. After the ruling Otto sank into depression, and died in 1891.