MMIM Hall of Fame

Christian Reithmann

     Born on the 9th of February 1818 in the little town of St. Jakob in Haus, in the gorgeous valley of Pillersee, Austria. Even in 2012 the population was just 630 inhabitants.

     After serving an three year apprenticeship to a carpenter in Salzburg Christian Reithmann set up business as a cabinetmaker in Munich in 1839. Between 1841 to 1848 Reithmann took care of the interests of the widow of a watchmaker in Schwabing before setting up as an independant watchmaker around 1848.

     Reithmann believed machines could produce a more accurate watch than any person could and in his work as a clock maker designed and produced ten machines and several engines to power them. Amongst his awards and accreditations are a Silver Medal at the 1867 World Exhibition in Paris for his 1865 design of a clock which operated without any pendulum, a system still used for modern electric clocks!

     At the Vienna World Exhibition of 1873 Reithmann presented a pneumatically actuated telegraph system which went on to received high honours at the World's Fair.

     The King of Bavaria appointed Reithmann "Royal Bavarian Court Clockmaker" in 1874 and he delivered a wonderfully built tower clock for the Schlossberg on Lake Starnberg.

     Reithmann also designed the astronomical clock housed in the Munich Deutsches Museum

     For many years the engineering work of Christian Reithmann was hidden but as early as 1852 he had gas engine and an electric motor powering his watch making machines. When he heard about the engines of the Parisian Étienne Lenoir Reithmann took out his first patent on an engine on the 26th of October 1860. It had a bore of 98mm and stroke of 111mm running at a speed of around 200 rpm and ran in Reithmann’s Munich workshop until 1881. Sadly this Patent only ran for one year but as his designes were moving on at a great pace he wasn’t too concerned. On the 16th of January, 1862, Christian Reithmann filed another patent for an engine described by the engineer Alphonse Beau de Rochas as a running on the four-stroke cycle.

     The biggest problem for Christian Reithmann was finances. In 1868 he made another patent application, with the assistance of the glass painter Ainmiller, to try and establish production on an industrial level. Insufficient funds held up the application and despite attempts to find more backing this initiative ground to a halt. The engine in question had two piston engines, one vertical and one horizontal , operating in a similar fashion to the Deutz AG "atmospheric engine". 

     Reithmann continued to develope his engines as well as his manufacturing machines and in January 1872 presented a stationary piston engine to an audience of professionals at the Munich Polytechnic club. Carl von Linde recorded the engine in the "Bavarian industrial and commercial sheet". 
The engine had a 
steady air flow between the two pistons, it was compressed by the explosion of a gas-air mixture and the expansion then performed work.
     In 1873 refined the system creating “four clock cycle”. He removed the cushion of air between the pistons and compressed the gas-air mixture directly; this achieved a better effect than the original version.
     Christian Reithmann is therefore the inventor of the four-stroke engine, three years before Nicolaus Otto’s designed for Deutz AG in Cologne. When a German Imperial Patent (DRP 532 of 9-5-1876) was issued a group of mechanical engineers, led by Ernst Körting approached Reithmann and requested he provide an official affidavit describing the development of his engine and the dates of his invention.
     This then appeared in the journal of the "Association of German Engineers" when a civil engineer wrote an article in 1883. It was then in print that Reithmann had built his engine three years before Otto and even suggested that Otto had previous experience of Reithmann’s engine.
     Reithmann sued Deutz AG for patent infringement causing not a little controversy. Nicholas Otto's partner, Eugen Langen, was accused of attempting to “influence” the courts appraiser, Herr Schröter, and Otto himself made several visits to Reithman to attempt to settle the matter with him directly. In the end Christian Reithman won the patent dispute in 1884, which had a doubly bad effect on   Deutz AG. The bad press and the loss of the honour of being the first to design a four-stroke engine led Otto to negotiation with Reithmann in order to stop Reithmann selling the rights to the design and Otto losing out on those funds and to be allowed to continue to call himself the inventor of the 4-stroke cycle. In the end Otto gave him a generous settlement of 25,000 gold marks and a pension for life. It was also agreed that neither party would denigrate the other in any way. Subsequently Deutz did show Reithmann in a derogatory way and for many years after Reithmann was forgotten and Otto was the inventor of note.

     Nicholas Otto died in 1891 but Deutz AG’s secret remained intact until 1949. Reithmann’s legacy was eventually known to the world when Arnold Langen’s book “Nicolaus August Otto - the creator of the internal combustion engine” was published.

     On the 13th of February, 1906Kaiser Wilhelm II presided over the laying of the cornerstone for a new German Museum. At the same time the King bestowed on Reithmann the Order of Merit of the Royal Bavarian Order. 

     Christian Reithmann died on the 1st of July, 1909, in Munich. His tomb is in the Old South Cemetery in Munich. 

     Jutta Siorpaes’ 2008 book  “Als die Welt in Bewegung geriet: Christian Reithmann und die Erfindung des Viertaktmotors” (or When the world was set in motion: Christian Reithman and the invention of the four-stroke) tells more of the Christian Reithmann story, albeit on German.