RUDOLF CHRISTIAN KARL DIESEL (MARCH 18, 1858 – SEPTEMBER 29, 1913) WAS A GERMAN INVENTOR AND MECHANICAL ENGINEER, FAMOUS FOR THE INVENTION OF THE DIESEL ENGINE. DIESEL WAS BORN IN PARIS, FRANCE IN 1858, THE SECOND OF THREE CHILDREN OF ELISE (BORN STROBEL) AND THEODOR DIESEL. HIS PARENTS WERE BAVARIAN IMMIGRANTS LIVING IN PARIS.THEODOR DIESEL, A BOOKBINDER BY TRADE, LEFT HIS HOME TOWN OF AUGSBURG, BAVARIA, IN 1848. RUDOLF DIESEL SPENT HIS EARLY CHILDHOOD IN FRANCE, BUT AS A RESULT OF THE OUTBREAK OF THE FRANCO-PRUSSIAN WAR IN 1870, HIS FAMILY (AS WERE MANY OTHER GERMANS) WAS FORCED TO LEAVE. THEY SETTLED IN LONDON, ENGLAND.
Before the war’s end, however, 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-Gewerbsschule (Royal County Trade School), where his uncle taught mathematics.
At age 14, Rudolf wrote a letter to his parents stating 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 received a merit scholarship from the Royal Bavarian Polytechnic of Munich, which he accepted against the wishes of his parents, who would rather have seen him start to work.
Diesel was unable to be graduated with his class in July 1879 because he fell ill with typhoid. 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 was 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.
As he was not allowed to use the patents he developed while an employee of Linde’s for his own purposes, he expanded beyond the field of refrigeration. He first worked with steam, his research into thermal efficiency and fuel efficiency leading him to build a steam engine using ammonia vapour. During tests, however, the engine exploded and almost killed him. He spent many months in a hospital, followed by health and eyesight problems. He then began designing an 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 “Theory and Construction of a Rational Heat-engine to Replace the Steam Engine and Combustion Engines Known Today” and formed the basis for his work on and invention of the diesel engine.
Eventually, he 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. From 1893 to 1897, Heinrich von Buz, director of MAN AG in Augsburg, gave Rudolf Diesel the opportunity to test and develop his ideas. Rudolf Diesel obtained patents for his design in Germany and other countries, including the U.S. (U.S. Patent 542,846 and U.S. Patent 608,845).
In the evening of September 29, 1913, Diesel boarded the post office steamer Dresden in Antwerp on his way to a meeting of the Consolidated Diesel Manufacturing company in London. He took dinner on board the ship and then retired to his cabin at about 10 p.m., leaving word to be called the next morning at 6:15 a.m. His cabin was found empty during a roll call, and he was never seen alive again. A search of his cabin revealed that Diesel’s bed had not been slept in, although his nightshirt was neatly laid out and his watch had been left where he could see it from the bed. His hat and overcoat were discovered neatly folded beneath the afterdeck railing.
In the foreword to a book titled Diesel Engines for Land and Marine Work, Rudolf Diesel states, “In 1900 a small Diesel engine was exhibited by the Otto company which, on the suggestion of the French Government, was run on Arachide oil, and operated so well that very few people were aware of the fact. The motor was built for ordinary oils, and without any modification was run on vegetable oil.” Diesel went on to say that “I have recently repeated these experiments on a large scale with full success and entire confirmation of the results formerly obtained.”
The diesel engine (also known as a compression-ignition engine) is an internal combustion engine that uses the heat of compression to initiate ignition and burn the fuel that has been injected into the combustion chamber. This contrasts with spark-ignition engines such as a petrol engine(gasoline engine) or gas engine (using a gaseous fuel as opposed to gasoline), which use a spark plug to ignite an air-fuel mixture.
The diesel engine has the highest thermal efficiency of any standard internal or external combustion engine due to its very high compression ratio. Low-speed diesel engines (as used in ships and other applications where overall engine weight is relatively unimportant) can have a thermal efficiency that exceeds 50%. Diesel engines are manufactured in two-stroke and four-stroke versions. They were originally used as a more efficient replacement for stationary steam engines. Since the 1910s they have been used in submarines and ships. Use in locomotives, trucks, heavy equipment and electric generating plants followed later.