Rudolf Diesel inventor of diesel engine, Rudolf-Diesel-Medaille
Rudolf Christian Karl Diesel (March 18, 1858 – September 30, 1913) was a German inventor and mechanical engineer, famous for the invention of the diesel engine.
Diesel was born in Paris, France, in 1858 as the second of three children to Theodor and Elise Diesel. Diesel’s parents were immigrants living in France according to a biographical book by John F. Moon. Theodor Diesel, a bookbinder by trade, had left his home town of Augsburg, Kingdom of Bavaria, in 1848. He met his wife, Elise Strobel, daughter of a Nuremberg merchant, in Paris in 1855 and himself became a leathergoods manufacturer there.
Diesel spent his early childhood in France, but as a result of the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, the family was forced to leave and immigrated to London. Before the end of the war, however, Diesel’s mother sent 12-year-old Rudolf to Augsburg to live with his aunt and uncle, Barbara and Christoph Barnickel, so that he might learn to speak German and visit the Königliche Kreis-Gewerbsschule or Royal County Trade School, where his uncle taught mathematics.
At age 14, Rudolf wrote to his parents that he wanted to become an engineer, and after finishing his basic education at the top of his class in 1873, he enrolled at the newly-founded Industrial School of Augsburg. Later, in 1875, he received a merit scholarship from the Royal Bavarian Polytechnic in Munich which he accepted against the will of his perennially cash-strapped parents who would rather have seen him begin earning money.
In Munich, one of his professors was Carl von Linde. Diesel was unable to graduate with his class in July 1879 because of a bout with typhoid. While he waited for the next exam date, he gathered practical engineering experience at the Gebrüder Sulzer Maschinenfabrik in Winterthur, Switzerland. Diesel graduated with highest academic honors from his Munich alma mater in January 1880 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 a scant year later.
In 1883, Diesel married Martha Flasche, and continued to work for Linde, garnering numerous patents in both Germany and France.
In early 1890, Diesel moved his wife and their now three children Rudolf junior, Heddy and Eugen, to Berlin to assume management of Linde’s corporate research and development department and to join several other corporate boards there. Because he was not allowed to use the patents he developed while an employee of Linde’s for his own purposes, Diesel sought to expand into an area outside of refrigeration. He first toyed with steam, his research into fuel efficiency leading him to build a steam engine using ammonia vapor. During tests, this machine exploded with almost fatal consequences and resulted in many months in the hospital and a great deal of ill health and eyesight problems. He also began designing an engine based on the Carnot cycle, and in 1893, soon after Gottlieb Daimler and Karl Benz had invented the automobile in 1887, Diesel published a treatise entitled Theorie und Construktion eines rationellen Wärmemotors zum Ersatz der Dampfmaschine und der heute bekannten Verbrennungsmotoren or 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.
Diesel understood thermodynamics and the theoretical and practical constraints on fuel efficiency. He knew that even very good steam engines were only 10-15% thermodynamically efficient, which means that they converted only 10-15% of the energy available in the fuel into useful work. His work in engine design was driven by the goal of much higher efficiency ratios. He tried to design an engine based on the Carnot Cycle. However, he gave up on this and tried to develop his own approach. Eventually he designed his own engine and obtained patent for his design. In his engine, fuel was injected at the end of compression and the fuel was ignited by the high temperature resulting from compression. In 1893, he published a book in German with the title “Theory and design of a rational thermal engine to replace the steam engine and the combustion engines known today” (English translation of the original title in German) with the help of Springer Verlag, Berlin. He managed to build a working engine according to his theory and design. His engine is now known as the diesel engine. Heinrich von Buz (1833-1918) was director (MAN AG) of an engine factory in Augsburg. From 1893-1897, he gave Rudolf Diesel the opportunity to test and develop his ideas according to the book by John F. Moon. Rudolf Diesel obtained patents for his design in Germany and other countries including USA, for example, US Patent 542846 and US Patent 608845.
In the evening of 29 September 1913, Diesel boarded the post office steamer Dresden in Antwerp on his way to a meeting of the “Consolidated Diesel Manufacturing Ltd.” in London. He took dinner on board the ship and then retired to his cabin at about 10 p.m., leaving word for him to be called the next morning at 6:15 a.m. He was never seen alive again. Ten days later, the crew of the Dutch boat “Coertsen” came upon the corpse of a man floating in the sea. The body was in such a heavy state of decomposition that they did not bring it aboard. Instead, the crew retrieved personal items (pill case, wallet, pocket knife, eyeglass case) from the clothing of the dead man, which on October 13th were identified by Rudolf’s son, Eugen Diesel, as belonging to his father.
After Diesel’s death, the diesel engine underwent much development, and became a very important replacement for the steam engine in many applications. Because the diesel engine required a heavier, more robust construction than a gasoline engine, it was not widely used in aviation (but see aircraft diesel engine). However, the diesel engine became widespread in many other applications, such as stationary engines, submarines, ships, and much later, locomotives, and in modern automobiles. Diesel engines are most often found in applications where a high torque requirement and low RPM requirement exist. Because of their generally more robust construction and high torque, Diesel engines have also become the workhorses of the trucking industry. Recently, diesel engines have been designed, certified and flown that have overcome the weight penalty in light aircraft. These engines are designed to run on either Diesel fuel or more commonly jet fuel.
The diesel engine has the benefit of running more fuel-efficiently than gasoline engines. Diesel was especially interested in using coal dust or vegetable oil as fuel, his engine in fact ran on peanut oil. Although these fuels were not immediately popular, recent rises in fuel prices coupled with concerns about oil reserves have led to more widespread use of vegetable oil and biodiesel. The primary source of fuel remains what became known as Diesel fuel, an oil byproduct derived from refinement of petroleum.
Patent dispute with Herbert Akroyd Stuart
Details of the claim that a patent submitted by Herbert Akroyd Stuart has pre−dated that of Rudolf Diesel can be found under the name of that inventor.
Rudolf-Diesel-Medaille, German award in memory of Rudolf Diesel
* Diesel’s Engine: From Conception To 1918. C. Lyle Cummins, Jr. (son of Clessie Cummins who was the founder of the Cummins Company), Carnot Press, 1993.
* Diesel, The Man and the Engine. Morton Grosser. New le der Erstausgabe von 1913 mit einer technik-historischen Einführung. Moers: Steiger Verlag, 1984.
* Rudolf Diesel and the Diesel Engine, by John F. Moon, Piory Press, London, 1974.