Famous Scientists

Rudolf Christian Karl Diesel

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From the name alone, it would be enough to have an inkling of what this man of science contributed to today’s society. Rudolf Christian Karl Diesel made a great contribution in the field of mechanical engineering, particularly in today’s transportation powering methods. He is most famous for having invented the diesel engine but apart from that, Diesel also happens to be a connoisseur of the arts, a social theorist, and a linguist whose brilliant mind made breakthroughs which are still much appreciated by the modern society.

Early Life and Family Background

Born on March 18, 1858 in Paris, France, Rudolf Diesel was the son of Theodor Diesel who was a leather worker, and Elise Strobel. Both of his parents were Bavarian Germans who hailed from Augsburg. When the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 happened, the Diesel family had to be expelled from France which caused them to transfer to London. Young Rudolf Diesel was, however, sent back to Augsburg by his father to continue the education which he was able to have in France.

Although unable to graduate in his 1879 class because he was ill with typhoid, he mad wise use of his time by gaining practical experience in engineering at the Sulzer Brothers Machine Works or the Gebrüder Sulzer Maschinenfabrik in Winterthur, Switzerland. He became fascinated by engineering because of his visits to National Conservatory of Arts and Crafts. The following year, Rudolf Diesel graduated with flying colors and made his way back to Paris where he had the chance to work at the firm which Karl Paul Gottfried von Linde, his former refrigeration professor ran. Diesel had been Linde’s student at Technical University Munich.


Diesel assisted Linde to come up with the design as well as the construction of a modern refrigeration as well as ice plant back in 1880. A year later, it was none other than Diesel himself who became the director of the plant. Come 1883, Diesel was married to Martha Flasche with which he had their sons Rudolf Jr. and Eugen, and their daughter Heddy. He continued to work with and for Linde and together, they were able to gain many patents in both France and Germany.

While he was working as one of the employees of the Linde firm, Diesel was captivated by the theoretical works of Nicholas Carnot, a French physicist who was the brains behind the principles of today’s modern combustion engine. Diesel believed that it was possible to build an engine which which is four times more efficient than what they had back then.

This inspiration set his ideas in motion and in 1885, he began to work on his project to have a more efficient engine. For more than a decade, he had worked on different engine designs and come 1892, he was granted the patent to have an engine burn what was then the cheapest fuel available which was powdered coal. During the time he was working on his engines and designs, his projects earned funding from Maschinenfabrik Augsburg which is now known as MAN Diesel as well as Friedrich Krupp AG now known as ThyssenKrupp.

The Diesel Engine

Rudolf Diesel was able to power the very first diesel engine on the tenth of August, 1893 and what served as its fuel was peanut oil. He was able to find workarounds for some of the problems and he was then able to introduce the first 25-horsepower 4-stroke one-cylinder compression engine come 1879. This more advanced engine which became well-known after it was first displayed in the 1898 Munich Exhibition.

The engine that Rudolf Diesel came up with is a kind of internal combustion engine with a compression ignition mechanism that works by having heated fuels. The fuels used for powering the engine can either be bio-derived or petroleum based. This mechanism that does not require complex spark ignition systems is what really sets the diesel engine aside and makes it more efficient. According to Diesel himself, “It is the diesel’s higher compression ratio that leads to its greater fuel efficiency. Because the air is compressed, the combustion temperature is higher, and the gases will expand more after combustion, applying more pressure to the piston and crankshaft.”

His diesel engine was made to be usable for marine engines, automobiles, electric power generators, factories, trains, oil drilling equipment, and mining machines. The American rights for the diesel engine were sold to the brewer named Adolphus Busch, but in Europe, it is still MAN Diesel that operates the leading facility for diesel engines. Not only did Diesel create a more efficient engine, he had also warned of the possible air pollution dangers that may arise from the use of engines, and he even wrote a book about the human condition which also suggested how businesses should be owned by the employees.

Death and Disappearance

In September 29, 1913, Diesel went aboard the steamer Dresden to cross the English Channel. En route to London to be in the Consolidated Diesel Manufacturing meeting, he vanished. He went to his cabin around 10 PM after having dinner and asked to be called the following morning around 6 AM. During the roll call, his cabin was empty and had never been seen alive since then.

His clothing were left untouched on his unused bed and ten days later after his disappearance, crew from the Dutch boat named Coertsen chanced upon the decomposing body of a man which floated in the North Sea which is near Norway. The body was not brought on board because of its state, but personal items such as his pill case, pocket knife, I.D. card, and an eyeglass case was taken to help identify him. Eugen, the younges of Rudolf Diesel’s sons identified these personal effects as his father’s.

There are some theories about the death of Diesel, one of which is suicide which is considered as the most likely one. Some conspiracy theories suggest homicide based on military interest on his works. However, there is limited explanation for the death of the man who was able to create a huge change on engine efficiency.

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