Call for Papers – The Piston Engine Revolution – An International Conference – 14-17th April 2011 : MOSI, Manchester


The Piston Engine Revolution


An International Conference


14-17th April 2011 : MOSI, Manchester

Call for Papers




The NEWCOMEN Society (The International Society for the History of Engineering and Technology) and the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) are organising an International Conference entitled  “The Piston Engine Revolution” The conference will review how the internal combustion engine came into being, how it was first commercialised for stationary power production, and how it gave rise to the automotive and aircraft industries. The focus will be on the engineering developments associated with the IC engine, and on the engineers, technicians and scientists who contributed to its success. The Organisers will also welcome contributions from engineers about their knowledge of the more recent past. Conference papers will be published in a Conference Volume.     


The Conference will be held in Manchester’s Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI). A half day visit will be made to the Anson Engine Museum, which has one of the best collections of stationary engines in Europe. The Conference will begin on Thursday evening, 14th April 2011, with a public lecture. On subsequent days, sessions will be given over to selected topics, including: 


  • The scientific and technical thinking underlying early designs
  • Very early pioneers
  • Contributions  of Lenoir, Otto, Diesel and Benz
  • Hot bulb engines in the UK and elsewhere
  • IC engine competitors (steam and hot air engines)
  • Formal R&D by research organisations and engine companies  


  • Development of engines for road, rail, marine and air transport
  • Key stationary, automotive, marine, rail and aircraft engines
  • Building, running, and testing near scale and full scale engine replicas
  • Engine Museums in the UK, on the Continent, and elsewhere   


  • Gaseous fuels from coal, coke, and wood
  • Liquid fuel development and specifications
  • Carburettors,  spark plugs, igniters, and valves
  • Metallurgy and materials issues


Papers should be 6000 to 8000 words in length. Please send a short synopsis of 250 words of your proposed paper to the Conference Secretary by 31st August 2010.  The final date for submission of full papers is 31st January 2011. Conference Secretary address is:


Piston Engine Conference Update


Although it is some way ahead, make a note in your diaries to keep the 14th to 17th April of next year free for the Newcomen Conference on “The Piston Engine Revolution”. Contacts have been established with a large number of groups and individuals who want to contribute papers and presentations. We have a prestigious venue for the conference, the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester,  and the follow-up visit to the Anson Museum, to see their display of internal combustions engines, promises to be fun.  


The Conference Organisers have broadened the scope of the meeting to cover the more recent history of the IC engine. When we were chasing people for presentations, conversations often started off with the words, “Well, I used to work for……., but they have gone out of business, and all their records have vanished. Now there is only me left”. Even when companies are still operating, we can still be dependent on a few people who have inside knowledge of what the company did, how it achieved so much, and, indeed, how the company got into the manufacture of IC engines in the first place. In many cases this seems to have begun on the personal whim of a few individuals.


In this respect we will be having presentations from past employees of Paxmans, Napiers and Rustons. Clearly from this you will see that the Conference is also getting into locomotives and shipping.  So if you would like to volunteer a paper on IC engines in these sectors please contact us. But even if you don’t feel up to giving a formal contribution, we hope you will be able to say something in the discussion periods. We will be recording these interventions for publication in the Conference Proceedings.


Some of the papers will be of the anecdotal type and it is hoped that there will plenty of “juicy” anecdotes, which, for obvious reasons, have  never had the chance to appear before in, for example, the deliberations of the I.Mech.E. In contrast to this there will be one or two sessions given over to what might be described as a technical analysis of past success stories, and conversely why some good ideas ended up as near misses. Along with these there will be more general histories of engine development in the aviation and road transport fields.  


We have about twenty presentations lined up, which takes us comfortably into a 2-2.5 day meeting. You will read more about this in the December issue of Links when we will be setting out the programme and associated matters in more detail.


But here is an initial taste of what you can expect.      


  • The Barsanti and Matteucci free piston engine of 1853
  • Early gas engines
  • Paxman and the diesel engine
  • Ruston’s locomotive engine developments
  • Napier multicylinder engine history
  • R&D at the Ricardo Company
  • The Mitchell crankless engine
  • High octane fuels
  • Gas producers from the point of view of modern practice 
  • Valve cooling, the key to record breaking
  • The Blackburne aircraft and motorcycle engines  
  • Sir Roy Fedden and his engines


If you would like to make a presentation or have any queries about  the Conference, please send an e-mail to or telephone 0044  20 8764 7837:



Dr Fred Starr FIMMM, C.Eng (Conference Secretary)

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