By Herbert Stumm

From 1822 until about 1830, Samuel Morey, a former army officer from Orford, New Hampshire, developed an atmospheric internal combustion engine which has largely been neglected in the history of technology. This remarkable piece of machinery burned a blend of alcohol and turpentine, mixed with air in a heated surface carburetor.

Despite several public demonstrations, he was unable to commercialize his patent rights, and fell into oblivion without any influence on subsequent developments. He nevertheless earns the merit of building the very first automobile in the United States and also having it running on liquid fuel.

Morey held around 20 of patents, all signed by the President and the Secretary of State (good old days).

Morey was a practical man, no educated engineer. He was unable to produce drawings. A friend, an engineer named Erskine Hazard, applied on his behalf for a U.K. patent, where drawings were needed. So he made drawings of the engine from memory. These drawings are the only existing ones and it is not certain whether they show the actual engine or not.

The engine dates from 1825 and is a two cylinder unit with surface carburettor and was intended as a boat and car engine.

Operating principle

On the upstroke fresh air is sucked in via a valve at the cylinder bottom. At the last quarter of the upstroke this valve closes and

the fuel is drawn in from the carburetor through a small valve at

the top end of the cylinder, followed by ignition.

The pressure of the hot gases reopens the bottom valve, gas is exhausted. At zero pressure the valve shuts automatically, the remaining gas has meanwhile cooled down through expansion, a vacuum is formed, which pulls the piston down. The 180 degree offset of the second cylinder and the inertia of the flywheel keeps the engine running.

The model

The model is around 1:6 scale. It includes several alterations. I use ether as fuel, so the carburetor need not be heated.

Ignition is by a small spark plug, because flame ignition, as on the big engine - will not work in small scale. The big poppet valve at the bottom is operated by a catch mechanism, while the inlet valve and the ignition are operated by cams; all are sitting on the crankshaft and are adjustable. The spark plugs work in series, so only one pair of points on a double cam is needed, the extra spark does no harm. A second coil or a distributor is not needed.


It took me quite a while until I had the engine running. At first fuel was the major problem. Alcohol has to be heated to ca. 60 degrees to make a combustible gas, and on its way to the cylinder it cools and becomes liquid again because of the volume/mass ratio. I had to preheat the upper part of the cylinder which gave another unstable condition.

To find out whether the engine worked at all, I tried my beloved acetylene. It showed, that the engine works, but the explosions nearly knocked the engine to pieces. Ether was the ultimate solution. It evaporates at room temperature and burns in a wIde air/gas range.

Another problem were the spark plugs. I made several new ones. But these can easily be reached and cleaned with a Q-tip.

At the end, after a lot of fun and also frustration, I could show, that Morey was right. He was the inventor of the first working Internal Combustion Engine in the world.

This model was shown at Harrogate in 2010.

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