Rudolf Diesel

Famous for inventing the Diesel engine, the German inventor and mechanical engineer Rudolf Christian Karl Diesel was born 18 March 1858 in Paris, France. Only few weeks after his birth, Diesel was given away to a Vincennes farmer family, where he spent his first nine months. When he was returned to his family, they moved into the flat 49 in the Rue Fontaineau-Roi. When he wad young Rudolf Diesel worked in his father’s workshop delivering leather goods to customers using a barrow. He attended a Protestant-French school and soon became interested in social questions and technology. When he was 12-year-old Diesel received the Société l’Instruction Elémentaire bronze medal and had plans to enter Ecole Primaire Supérieure in 1870.

However At the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian in 1870 his family was forced to leave, as were many other Germans. They settled in London, England, where Diesel attended an English school. Then Diesel’s mother sent 12-year-old Rudolf to Augsburg to live with his aunt and uncle, Barbara and Christoph Barnickel, to become fluent in German and to visit the Königliche Kreis-Gewerbeschule (Royal County Vocational College), where his uncle taught mathematics. At the age of 14, Diesel wrote a letter to his parents saying that he wanted to become an engineer. After finishing his basic education at the top of his class in 1873, he enrolled at the newly founded Industrial School of Augsburg. Two years later, he accepted a merit scholarship from the Royal Bavarian Polytechnic of Munich.

One of Diesel’s professors in Munich was Carl von Linde. Diesel was unable to graduate with his class in July 1879 because he fell ill with typhoid fever. While waiting for the next examination date, he gained practical engineering experience at the Gebrüder Sulzer Maschinenfabrik (Sulzer Brothers Machine Works) in Winterthur, Switzerland. Diesel graduated in January 1880 with highest academic honours and returned to Paris, where he assisted his former Munich professor, Carl von Linde, with the design and construction of a modern refrigeration and ice plant. Diesel became the director of the plant one year later. In 1883, Diesel married Martha Flasche, and continued to work for Linde, gaining numerous patents in both Germany and France.

In early 1890, Diesel moved to Berlin with his wife and children, Rudolf Jr, Heddy, and Eugen, to assume management of Linde’s corporate research and development department and to join several other corporate boards there. Diesel diversified beyond the field of refrigeration, and began working with steam, researching thermal efficiency and fuel efficiency leading him to build a steam engine using ammonia vapour. Sadly this exploded hospitalising him and causing long-term health problems

So Benz began designing a safer and more efficient engine based on the Carnot cycle, and in 1893, soon after Karl Benz was granted a patent for his invention of the motor car in 1886, Diesel published a treatise entitled Theorie und Konstruktion eines rationellen Wärmemotors zum Ersatz der Dampfmaschine und der heute bekannten Verbrennungsmotoren [Theory and Construction of a Rational Heat-engine to Replace the Steam Engine and The Combustion Engines Known Today] which formed the basis for his invention of the Diesel engine.

Diesel understood thermodynamics and the theoretical and practical constraints on fuel efficiency. He knew that as much as 90% of the energy available in the fuel is wasted in a steam engine. His work in engine design was driven by the goal of much higher efficiency ratios. Following his experiments with a Carnot cycle engine, he developed it further and obtained a patent for his design for a compression-ignition engine. In his engine, fuel was injected at the end of compression and the fuel was ignited by the high temperature resulting from compression. The Diesel engine has the benefit of running more fuel-efficiently than gasoline engines due to much higher compression ratios and longer duration of combustion. Diesel was interested in using coal dust or vegetable oil as fuel, and his engine was run on peanut oil. Between 1893 and 1897, Heinrich von Buz, director of MAN AG in Augsburg, gave Rudolf Diesel the opportunity to test and develop his ideas.

On the evening of 29 September 1913, Diesel boarded the GER steamer SS Dresden in Antwerp on his way to a meeting of the Consolidated Diesel Manufacturing company in London, England. He took dinner on board the ship and then retired to his cabin and was never seen alive again. Then Ten days later, the crew of the Dutch boat Coertzen came upon the corpse of a man floating in the North Sea near Norway. the crew retrieved personal items (pill case, wallet, I.D. card, pocketknife, eyeglass case) from the corpse and On 13 October, these items were identified by Rudolf’s son, Eugen Diesel, as belonging to his father. Then On 14 October 1913 it was reported that Diesel’s body was found at the mouth of the Scheldt by a boatman. Shortly after Diesel’s disappearance, his wife Martha opened a bag that her husband had given to her just before his ill-fated voyage, with directions that it should not be opened until the following week. She discovered 200,000 German marks in cash (US$1.2 million today). There are many theories concerning Diesels disappearance including suicide or murder, however evidence is limited and his disappearance and death remain unsolved.

Following Diesel’s tragic and unexplained death, his engine underwent much development and became a very important replacement for the steam piston engine in many applications. Because the Diesel engine required a heavier, more robust construction than a gasoline engine, it saw limited use in aviation. However the Diesel engine was widely used in stationary engines, agricultural machines, submarines, ships, locomotives, trucks, and in modern automobiles and thanks to his pioneering work He was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame in 1978.

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