Posted by: Glow-worm PJ25 SEP 2013
Sunday 29 September 2013 is the 100th anniversary of the death of Rudolph Diesel. He was born on 18 March 1858 in Paris, the son of Bavarian immigrants, but the family was forced to leave France in 1870 at the onset of the Franco-Prussian war, and settled in England. Rudolph, however, was sent to Germany. After graduating from the Technical University in Munich, he was employed as a refrigeration engineer, but his real interest was engine design.
He secured financial support from a local engineering firm and was awarded a patent for a heat-driven oil engine in 1892. It differed from other internal combustion engines of the time in that no ignition spark was required. The air was compressed to such a high pressure within the cylinder that it reached a high enough temperature to ignite the fuel.
Because the combustion temperature is higher than other engines, owing to the greater compression, the gases expand more after combustion, leading to greater efficiency, as well as being quieter and requiring less maintenance. Diesel initially envisaged his engines would run on vegetable oils, and his first working engine in 1893 was fuelled by peanut oil.
Although best known for his eponymous engine, Diesel was a well respected thermal engineer and political theorist. One of his hopes was that his engines would enable independent craftsmen to compete with big businesses.
On 29 September 1913, en route to England, Diesel vanished from the cross-channel steamer SS Dresden, his coat neatly folded on the ship’s deck. His body was found a week later but was so badly decomposed that it was returned to the sea. Conspiracy theories abounded but, given his financial troubles, as well as his erratic behaviour in the previous months, suicide was thought to be the most likely cause.