Ambitious youth ignited the development of internal-combustion-powered transportation.

Consult any standard historical text on the evolution of the internal-combustion engine, and you'll encounter stern, gray-bearded figures, seemingly austere and professorial. However, this portrayal hardly captures the full picture. Rarely do these accounts include the wives who supported or financed these innovators, and if they do, it's within the formal attire typical of the Victorian era.

The reality is quite different. These individuals were pioneers aware they were revolutionizing the landscape of portable power and transportation, much like today's engineers and software developers recognize the transformative impact of their creations on our digital world.

Contrary to the stereotype of elderly professors, figures like Wilhelm Maybach and Karl Benz were in their prime when they made significant strides in engine development. Maybach was 37 when he collaborated with Gottlieb Daimler, while Benz was 41 when he showcased his first internal-combustion-powered automobile in 1885. A photo of Benz at 25 presents a youthful and charismatic figure with a stylish mustache and gleaming hair.

Far from being mere dreamers, these men were practical engineers, drawing upon existing knowledge and principles of thermodynamics to design engines that were efficient and adaptable. Their goal was to create engines capable of high-speed operation while consuming far less fuel than earlier models, which were essentially repurposed steam engines fueled by city gas.

Their vision proved prescient. By 1900, de Dion and his engineer Bouton had sold 20,000 motor tricycles, each powered by a single-cylinder four-stroke engine capable of remarkable speeds. These engines became the foundation for numerous motorcycle and automobile manufacturers globally. The rise of mass production and assembly lines by 1914 transformed automobiles from extravagant novelties into accessible means of transportation.

Similar to the skepticism faced by early automobiles, the advent of personal computers was met with ridicule and disbelief. Yet, just as silicon technology made computers smaller and more affordable, the internal-combustion engine sparked an era of innovation across various industries, from automobiles to aviation.

In an era marked by rapid discovery and relentless research, the internal-combustion engine, pioneered by a group of youthful enthusiasts in the late 19th century, propelled advancements in transportation that continue to shape our world today.