Bang!

John Ramsbottom, Engineer, Hipster

John Ramsbottom, Engineer, Hipster

My New Year’s resolution, alongside eating clean food and living authentically, as dictated by any number of hand-drawn vignettes on Instagram, is to learn more stuff. For me this means answering all those questions that pop into my mind while I’m filing my nails or flicking my hair.

Today’s question is about piston rings.

Piston rings are rather important. In fact, without them internal combustion is more or less impossible. Although Mr Beau de Rochas and Mr Otto are credited with inventing the internal combustion engine, there are a couple of important precursors that are often overlooked. One of them, of course, is the fuel – combustable diesel doesn’t just woosh out of the ground on its own. But that’s a question for another day.

The other precursor is the piston ring.

The piston ring was invented for steam engines, by an English engineer with the winning name of Mr Ramsbottom, in 1852. Prior to Mr Ramsbottom’s invention engine cylinders were sealed with lubricated hemp wadding. Now as you can see from the picture above, Mr Ramsbottom was a hipster, and, as any contemporary hipster will tell you, many things, from lukewarm coffee to menstrual blood are much, much better when filtrated through several layers greasy hemp. High pressure steam on the other hand, is not.

We’ve become rather inured to the magic of combustion engines but in the 19th century these developments seized the public imagination. Whereas now combustion engines are the domain of dreary bogans or cardigan wearing boffins, in the 19th century internal combustion engines were the the stuff of the adventurous experimenters, ‘road tested’ through staggering feats of exploration and challenge. It’s a romantic adventurism we’ve lost touch with. Had Shackleton’s team set off today they’d be tricked out in matching black-and-one-primary-colour polo shirts emblazoned with tired epithets like; “A Good Seal is a Tight Seal!”.

So there you go: Piston Rings. Mr Ramsbottom. Hemp and Hipsters. Happy Monday, people.

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