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A History of Delivering Excellence Through Innovation & Technology

Providing technology, product innovation, engineering solutions and strategic consulting to the world’s automotive industries since 1915

Sir Harry Ricardo was born in London in 1885 and was educated at Rugby and Cambridge where he studied at Trinity College.  He was a man of his time, indeed the first IC engined cars were made by Daimler and Benz in the year of his birth.  He was renowned for his research into the problem of knock in engines; the results of his work on fuel and reducing fuel consumption assisted Alcock and Brown to cross the Atlantic for the first time by aircraft.  Over the years, he was responsible for significant developments in the design of piston engines for a number of applications and derivatives of his original designs are still in production.

He was elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 1929 and in 1948 was knighted in recognition of his long and distinguished services to the internal combustion engine industry. He died in 1974 at the age of 89.

Early History

From his earliest days, Harry Ricardo had a fascination for engines.  He had designed and built many small engines in his youth including, at the age of 17, an engine to pump water at the family home in Sussex.  In 1906 he filed his first engine design patent. In 1908 ‘The Two-Stroke Engine Company’ started to manufacture and sell a car - the Dolphin - fitted with a novel engine he had designed.


This also found its way into many of the Shoreham-built fishing boats until almost every fisherman had a Dolphin engine in his boat; they were suited to prolonged low speed operation and proved extremely reliable.

In 1915 Harry Ricardo formed Engine Patents Ltd, the company which is today Ricardo plc

In this year he was contacted by the Royal Naval Air Service to help with the design of a device to manoeuvre battle tanks into position aboard railway wagons.
In fact, he discovered numerous problems with the tank engine itself that he was able to help with.  For example, the existing engine, a Daimler 105bhp sleeve-valve gasoline engine, had a poor lubrication system and many failures occurred as a result.  Its purely reciprocating sleeves supplied a large quantity of oil into the exhaust port and the tank’s location was revealed by the pall of blue smoke.  Harry designed a new 4-stroke crosshead-type engine producing 150bhp with no visible smoke.

Around 8000 engines were produced to power the tanks: many more found themselves powering generators in workshops, hospitals and camps.  The success of this venture led to Harry Ricardo buying the land and setting up his company on its present site in 1919.