It’s a cold and stormy day on October 10th 1913 when the crew of the pilot vessel “Coertsen” pulls a body out of the water in the English channel. As was customary, they strip it of any personal effects that might help with identification and give it back to the water. They were identified as the belongings of Rudolf Diesel, father of the engine of the same name.

Having been born in Paris in 1858, his family had to flee to England in 1870 because of the war between France and Germany. Due to the poverty they were now living in, young Rudolf was sent to foster parents in Augsburg, Germany where he aced school, determined to become an engineer. At university in Munich he learns that steam engines only had about six to ten percent efficiency, and is appalled. He is now determined to invent an engine that is much more efficient.

In February 1892, his new type of engine gets patented, but there are still problems. The engine isn’t running smoothly. In need of partners, he sells the rights to his engine to the Augsburger Machinenfabrik (later MAN) and Krupp. As the leader of the development team he works hard, but it takes years until his engine runs smoothly. During these years, he ruined his health, and also made some very bad financial decisions.

Even when his engines are running smoothly and are being used and produced almost all over the world, his former wealth is dwindling. In August 1913 he is basically, bankrupt. In some last attempt to broker a new deal, he boards a ship to England on September 29th. He never made it to the other shore. His hat and coat were found close to the railing, the bed in his cabin was untouched. Fellow passengers say that he was in a good mood that evening.


Was it suicide, an accident, or even murder? All we know is that Rudolf Diesel died 100 years ago today.