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Penn State Beaver Engine Wins 3 Blue Ribbons at Maker Faire Detroit

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Branden Kraus of Independence Township, Pa., demonstrates Penn State Beaver’s reproduction of Henry Ford’s first combustion engine at Maker Faire Detroit July 28, 2012, in Dearborn, Mich.
8/2/2012 —

Penn State Beaver engineering students won three Editor’s Choice blue ribbons at Maker Faire Detroit, July 28-29 in Dearborn, Mich.

The students caught the attention of executives of the Henry Ford Museum and the editors of Make Magazine with their reproduction of Henry Ford’s first combustion engine.

The students’ project involved researching Henry Ford, creating 3D models and schematics of the engine, and building the replica from parts that they often had to make themselves.

“We built a working engine out of scratch,” said Brennen Koji, petroleum engineering major from McMurray, Pa. “We harnessed explosions and turned them into mechanical energy.”

Ten Maker Faire officials had five ribbons each to hand out to exhibits they felt were outstanding. More than 460 makers exhibited at the fair.

“I liked Penn State Beaver’s engine particularly because it’s using a preeminent historical story and object and reinvestigating that,” said Christian Overland, executive vice president of The Henry Ford, who presented the first of the three ribbons to the students. “It’s obviously a piece that works. More importantly, when I talked to the students about it, I could see there’s a real team here.”                                          

Eleven sophomores built the engine from donated and fabricated parts for their spring 2012 Engineering Mechanics: Dynamics course taught by James Hendrickson, instructor in engineering. Penn State Beaver in Monaca is one of 24 Penn State locations across the state.

Ford’s first combustion engine was never installed in a vehicle. Instead, it served as a proof of concept for his 1896 Quadricycle.

“On Christmas Eve 1893 Henry Ford had his wife put down the turkey and come to the kitchen sink to help him start this thing,” said Hendrickson. The engine, which had no battery, was plugged into a wall socket, and Ford and his wife, Clara, regulated the fuel intake by hand. “Even he had trouble getting it started,” Hendrickson said.

The museum has the original engine, which isn’t allowed to be started, in storage. A replica is on display in the museum’s Greenfield Village, but it has a problem. 

“The replica they have doesn’t work. Ours does,” Hendrickson said.

That fact alone drew the attention of Jim Johnson, the museum’s senior manager of creative programs.

“When we found out that the Penn State Beaver students had a reproduction that actually works, we were very interested,” said Johnson, who invited the students to show their engine at Maker Faire alongside reproductions of the 1896 Quadricycle, the 1885 Benz Patent-Motorwagen, the 1885 Daimler Reitwagen, and Ford’s 1901 “Sweepstakes” race car.

“Everyone loved seeing the engine run and hearing the students talk about it,” said Johnson.

One of those people was Clara Deck, the museum’s senior conservator of historical resources. Deck choked up when she saw the reproduction running.

“That brought a tear to my eye,” she said. “We have the original, but I’ve never seen it run.”

Deck uncrated the original engine and allowed the students to view it in a storage area of the museum.

“That was a rare opportunity,” said Hendrickson. “We thought the original had been thrown away, and here we got to actually see it. These students will never forget that.”

Dalton Petrillo, a mechanical engineering major from Cheyenne, Wyo., found out how big an honor it was when he told one of the Henry Ford Museum workers about it. “He was jealous. He said they never show it to anyone.”

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