Showing posts with label Technology. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Technology. Show all posts

13 October 2023

Eugenio Barsanti - engineer

Created the first working internal combustion engine

A model of the Barsanti-Matteucci engine pictured on display at a museum in Milan
A model of the Barsanti-Matteucci engine
pictured on display at a museum in Milan
The engineer Eugenio Barsanti, whose internal combustion engine was the first working example of the technology known to have been produced, was born on this day in 1821 in Pietrasanta, a town in northern Tuscany.

The Belgian-French engineer Étienne Lenoir and the German Nicolaus Otto are credited with the first commercially successful internal combustion engines, but Barsanti’s machine, which he developed with partner Felice Matteucci, was unveiled in 1853 - six years before Lenoir’s and eight years ahead of Otto’s.

Barsanti might have achieved commercial success himself but shortly after reaching an agreement with a company in Belgium to produce his machine on a commercial scale he contracted typhoid fever, from which he never recovered.

A rather sickly child, known by his parents as Nicolò, Barsanti took the name Father Eugenio after entering the novitiate of the Piarists, the oldest Catholic religious order dedicated to education, where was ordained as a priest.

He took a teaching position at Collegio San Michele in Volterra. It was there, while lecturing on the explosive energy created by mixing hydrogen and air that he realised the potential of using combustible gases to lift the pistons in a motor.

He developed the idea further after meeting Matteucci, an engineer, while teaching at an institute in Florence. 

A postage stamp issued to mark the 150th anniversary of the engine's invention
A postage stamp issued to mark the 150th
anniversary of the engine's invention
After exhibiting their first engine at the prestigious Accademia dei Georgofili in Florence to much excitement, Barsanti and Matteucci travelled to London to obtain a patent. 

By 1856, Barsanti and Matteucci had developed a two-cylinder five horsepower motor and two years later built a two-piston engine designed to provide a source of energy to drive machinery in factories and workshops.

The Barsanti-Matteucci engine was quicker and more efficient than the one developed by Lenoir and won a silver medal from the Institute of Science of Lombardy. They believed it could also be used in the propulsion of ships as an alternative to steam.

After the prototype of their engine was built in Milan, the two were all set to go into mass production at a plant near Liège in Belgium owned by the English industrialist John Cockerill when Barsanti fell ill with typhoid fever. He died on April 18, 1864.

After his partner’s death, Matteucci found himself unsuited to the demands of running a commercial business and failed to secure the contracts necessary to make mass production viable. He returned to his previous work in hydraulics. 

Nicolaus Otto, on the other hand, had a background in business, giving him an edge not only in marketing skills but in the contacts he could approach for investment. He was the first to enjoy significant commercial success producing internal combustion engines and tends to be credited with its invention.

Barsanti's ashes are buried at the  Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence
Barsanti's ashes are buried at the 
Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence
Matteucci’s arguments that Otto’s engine was clearly similar to his and Barsanti’s were largely ignored. Nonetheless, many of the documents relating to the original patents he and Barsanti obtained are preserved in the Museo Galileo in Florence, while Barsanti’s achievements are acknowledged in Italy, where a postage stamp was issued to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Barsanti-Matteucci engine.

In 1954, Barsanti's ashes were moved from the Church of San Giovannino degli Scolopi, the small, Piarist church in Florence, to the Basilica of Santa Croce, to rest alongside the remains of such illustrious Italians as Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, the poet Ugo Foscolo and the composer Gioachino Rossini among many others.

Copies of Barsanti’s engines can be seen at the Osservatorio Ximeniano in Florence and the Leonardo da Vinci National Museum of Science and Technology in Milan.

The wide, sandy beach at Marina di Pietrasanta is 5km long and attracts thousands of visitors
The wide, sandy beach at Marina di Pietrasanta
is 5km long and attracts thousands of visitors
Travel tip:

Pietrasanta, just north of Viareggio in the province of Lucca in Tuscany, still has part of its Roman wall, although as a mediaeval town it was not founded until 1255, expanding around the Rocca di Sala fortress of the Lombards. Its Duomo - the Collegiate Church of San Martino - dates back to the 13th century. Pietrasanta grew in importance in the 15th century due to its marble, the beauty of which was first recognised by the sculptor, Michelangelo, to be followed in later years by such artists as Fernando Botero, Joan Miró, Henry Moore, and Damien Hirst. The town declined during the 17th and 18th centuries, partly due to malaria, but underwent reconstruction in the 19th century. It has a pleasant central square, while the seaside resort of Marina di Pietrasanta is just 3km (1.9 miles) away.  Part of the Versilia coastline, Marina di Pietrasanta boasts some of the area's best beaches, stretching for 5km (3 miles).

The waterfront at Viareggio is notable for its many examples of Liberty-style architecture
The waterfront at Viareggio is notable for its many
examples of Liberty-style architecture
Travel tip:

Viareggio, which can be found just 13km (8 miles) south of Pietrasanta, is a popular resort also known for its excellent sandy beaches and for its carnival, a month-long event dating back to 1873 that runs from February through to March and features parades of giant papier-mache floats designed to represent well-known public figures. The Tuscan resort is also notable for its beautiful Liberty-style architecture, much of it built in its heyday in the late 19th and early 20th century, many examples of which thankfully survived heavy bombing in World War Two when the town was a target because of its shipbuilding industry.  The body of the English poet Shelley, who drowned at sea, was washed up on a beach near the resort in 1822.  He was cremated on the beach under the supervision of his friend, the poet Lord Byron. There is a monument to Shelley in the town’s Piazza Paolina.

Also on this day:

54: The death of Roman emperor Claudius

1687: The birth of architect Giorgio Massari

1815: The execution of Joachim Murat, former king of Naples

1884: The birth of anarchist Mario Buda

1988: The birth of sportsman and entrepreneur Piero Dusio

1985: The death of silent movie actress Francesca Bertini


13 April 2017

Antonio Meucci - inventor of the telephone

Engineer from Florence was 'true' father of communications

Antonio Meucci, the Florentine scientist and engineer who lived in New York
Antonio Meucci, the Florentine scientist
and engineer who lived in New York
Antonio Meucci, the Italian engineer who was acknowledged 113 years after his death to be the true inventor of the telephone, was born on this day in 1808 in Florence.

Until Vito Fossella, a Congressman from New York, asked the House of Representatives to recognise that the credit should have gone to Meucci, it was the Scottish-born scientist Alexander Graham Bell who was always seen as father of modern communications.

Yet Meucci’s invention was demonstrated in public 16 years before Bell took out a patent for his device. This was part of the evidence Fossella submitted to the House, which prompted a resolution in June, 2002, that the wealth and fame that Bell enjoyed were based on a falsehood.

It has even been suggested that Bell actually stole Meucci’s invention and developed it as his own while the Italian died in poverty, having been unable to afford the patent.

Meucci’s story began when he was born in the San Frediano area of Florence, which was then part of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, the first of nine children fathered by a policeman, Amatis Meucci, and his wife, Domenica.  A plaque marks the address in Via dei Serragli where he grew up.

At the age of 15, Meucci gained a place at the Florence Academy of Fine Arts as its youngest student, studying chemical and mechanical engineering. He had to leave after two years because he needed to find work but continued to study part-time.

A plaque marks the house in Florence's Via dei Serragli,  where Antonio Meucci was born in 1808
A plaque marks the house in Florence's Via dei Serragli,
where Antonio Meucci was born in 1808
He worked as a stage technician at the Teatro della Pergola in Florence, where he constructed a type of acoustic telephone to communicate between the stage and the theatre’s control room. He married costume designer Esterre Mochi, who worked at the same theatre, in 1834.

A year after they were married, Meucci and his wife emigrated to Cuba, largely because Meucci was fascinated by research being conducted in Havana into treating illnesses with electric shocks. In helping to further this research, he discovered by accident that sounds could travel by electrical impulses through copper wire.

Realising there was commercial potential in what he had stumbled upon, he moved to the United States in 1850, acquiring a house at Staten Island, near New York City, where he set up a workshop in the basement.  He had considerable savings from his time in Cuba, which he invested in a tallow candle factory.

His personal circumstances changed, however, when severe rheumatoid arthritis left his wife paralysed and in need of care.

A replica of the handsets Meucci created for his prototype telephone, which he unveiled in 1860
A replica of the handsets Meucci created for his
prototype telephone, which he unveiled in 1860
In one respect, this provided an opportunity. He devised a system, using copper wire, whereby Esterre could communicate with him by a rudimentary telephone linking to his workshop.  

This consisted of two wooden cylinders, each containing an electromagnet and a soft iron membrane, which converted the vibrations made by voice soundwaves into electrical impulses that travelled along a length of connecting wire, which were in turn reproduced as the same sounds at the other end of the line.  With handles attached, the two components resembled hand bells.

It was this device that he demonstrated in public in 1860, attracting sufficient interest that New York's Italian-language newspaper carried the story.

But events conspired against Meucci.  He improved and developed his device but his candle factory went bankrupt, which meant he had no funds to invest. His limited English made it difficult for him to find American backers, while most of his Italian friends, including the unification hero Giuseppe Garibaldi, were not from moneyed backgrounds.

It did not help that he was badly burned in an accident aboard a steamship, which further impacted on his ability to earn money. Meanwhile, needing to pay for treatment for her illness, Esterre sold his prototype machines to a second-hand goods shop for $6.

Meucci quickly made another device but could not afford the $250 needed for a definitive patent. Instead, in 1871, he filed a patent caveat - one-year renewable notice of an impending patent. Three years later he could not even find the $10 for the patent caveat.

He sent a model and technical details to the American District Telegraph Company, a subsidiary of Western Union based in New York, but failed to generate much interest. When he asked for his materials to be returned, in 1874, he was told they had been lost.

Two years later Bell, said to have worked in the laboratory where Meucci’s notes, diagrams and prototype devices were stored, filed a patent for a telephone. He subsequently struck a lucrative deal with Western Union, which made him wealthy, and a celebrity.

Suspecting that Bell had hijacked his ideas, Meucci sued. He appeared close to winning when the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case and proceedings against the Scot to annul the patent were begun in January 1887.

However, by this stage Meucci was in failing health and he died in 1889 before the process could reach a conclusion, the legal action dying with him.

The church of San Frediano in Cestello in Florence
The church of San Frediano in Cestello in Florence
Travel tip:

The parish of San Frediano is the part of the Oltrarno section of Florence that forms the neighbourhood around the Chiesa di San Frediano in Cestello, a church dedicated to St Fridianus, an early Christian Irish pilgrim who became bishop of Lucca. He is said to have miraculously walked across the surface of the Arno river near where the church was built.  Work began on the church in 1460 and it was rebuilt between 1680 and 1689. Although rather plain on the outside, the church contains many fine frescoes and paintings by Florentine artists.

Florence hotels from

Teatro della Pergola in central Florence
Teatro della Pergola in central Florence
Travel tip:

Primarily a court theatre used by the Grand Dukes of Tuscany, it was only after 1718 that the Teatro della Pergola, in Via della Pergola, was opened to the public. A highly prestigious theatre in its heyday, it was at La Pergola that the great operas of Mozart were heard for the first time in Italy. Gaetano Donizetti's Parisina and Rosmonda d'Inghilterra, Giuseppe Verdi's Macbeth and Peitro Mascagni's I Rantzau all made their debuts at the theatre.  Today, the theatre presents primarily 250 drama performances, by authors ranging from Molière to Neil Simon. Opera productions are hosted only during the annual Maggio Musicale Fiorentino. The theatre is about 10 minutes' walk from the Duomo.

More reading:

How Marconi made the world's first radio communication

Alessandro Volta - creator of the first electrical battery

What Luigi Galvani did to add a new word to the language

Also on this day:

(Picture credits: Meucci plaque and Teatro della Pergola by Sailko; prototype telephone courtesy of the Milan Museum of Science and Technology; San Frediano in Cestello by Amada44; all via Wikimedia Commons)