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Flame Ignition: Internal Combustion Engines Before 1900

Flame Ignition

Editor’s note: Noted master engine builder, modeler and early engine historian Wayne S. Grenning has finished his book, Flame Ignition: A Historical Account of Flame Ignition in the Internal Combustion Engine. A history of early flame-ignition internal combustion engines built prior to 1900, it documents the different types of engines that existed during the early era of internal combustion engine development. Engine collector and regular contributor Woody Sins had the opportunity to read the book, and has kindly penned the following review for GEM readers:

Wayne Grenning has assembled a great store of publications, texts and catalogs from the early days of the internal combustion engine in his personal library. These publications have assisted him greatly in his modeling of early flame ignition engines, such as his Sombart and Otto and Langen models, and his full-sized replica of the Forest non-compression engines. Grenning realized that this data would be of interest to other enthusiasts, and set forth to make available many years of research in a single publication. The results are presented in Flame Ignition, which will make its debut at the much anticipated Coolspring Power Museum’s Flame Engine Expo on June 18-20, 2015.

The book examines the efforts of early internal combustion engine designers and the problems they faced. Each of the eight chapters gives a history of the designs covered and the actual engines developed are discussed in alphabetical order. The engines covered all feature flame ignition, although other significant designs are discussed as they relate to the story of flame ignition. Each chapter contains many period engravings, test data, specifications and full color photos of existing examples of the engines covered.

Chapters include non-compression engines such as the Sombart and Forest designs, toy engines such as Paradox, atmospheric engines including the famous Otto and Langen design, 2-stroke engines like Clerk, 4-stroke engines including Deutz and Crossley, 6-stroke engines. Highlights of these chapters include an in-depth discussion of Brayton’s constant pressure engines, rarely seen prototypes from Otto and many unusual designs that are only known from ancient advertisements or the odd existing example. Patent drawings and explanations of operating sequences are included for all engines covered.

An extensive chapter covers the early activity of the Gasmotoren-Fabrik Deutz and Crossley 4-cycle engines, which were the direct ancestors of all 4-cycle engines. Other chapters illustrate the extent to which early inventors would go to get around the Otto 4-stroke patents, and the wealth of designs that were made possible when the patents were nullified. A brief but fascinating chapter on non-compression toy engines gives a glimpse of the few manufacturers to offer these small internal combustion engines to the budding engineers of the day.

In addition to the historical and operations details found in each section, Grenning has included an appendix of valuable information, covering topics such as a global registry of existing flame ignition engines (both in museums and in private hands), as well as test data. Also included is a section covering the scraping of slide-valves, a detailed description with three-dimensional drawings of the Otto 4-stroke slide-valve system, and examples of relevant rotary and slide-valve engines that did not feature flame ignition.

This book is a valuable source of information for those who are restoring, operating or are interested in early flame ignition slide-valve engines. Wayne’s research and expertise has been condensed into an easy-to-read volume packed with rare information from the dawn of the internal combustion age. This book is a must-have for the serious engine enthusiast.

Flame Ignition: A Historical Account of Flame Ignition in the Internal Combustion Engine, Wayne S. Grenning, hardback, 800 pages, color and b/w illustrations. $79.95/$149.95 for specially bound collector’s edition, signed and numbered by the author. Available June 2015 from The Coolspring Power Museum, (814) 849-6883 or email

1885 Griffin