Rudolf Diesel, who is best known for the invention of the engine that bears his name, was born in Paris, France in 1858. His invention came while the steam engine was the predominant power source for large industries.
In 1885, Diesel set up his first shop in Paris to begin development of a compression ignition engine. The process would last 13 years. In the 1890s, he received a number of patents for his invention of an efficient, slow burning, compression ignition, internal combustion engine [Diesel 1895][Diesel 1898][Diesel 1892][Diesel 1895a]. From 1893 to 1897, Diesel further developed his ideas at Maschinenfabrik-Augsburg AG (later Maschinenfabrik-Augsburg-Nürnberg or MAN). In addition to MAN, Sulzer Brothers of Switzerland took an early interest in Diesel’s work, buying certain rights to Diesel’s invention in 1893.
At MAN in Augsburg, prototype testing began with a 150 mm bore/400 mm stroke design on August 10, 1893. While the first engine test was unsuccessful, a series of improvements and subsequent tests led to a successful test on February 17, 1897 when Diesel demonstrated an efficiency of 26.2% with the engine, Figure 2, under load—a significant achievement given that the then popular steam engine had an efficiency of about 10%. The first Sulzer-built diesel engine was started in June 1898 [USPTO 2000][Deutsches Museum 2013]. Additional details of Diesel’s early testing can be found in the literature [Diesel 1913]
Development of Diesel’s invention needed more time and work to become a commercial success. Many engineers and developers joined in the work to improve the market viability of the idea created by Dr. Diesel. He, on the other hand, became somewhat threatened by this process and was not always able to find common language with other engine designers developing his invention. Diesel’s attempts of market promotion of the not-yet-ready engine eventually led into a nervous breakdown. In 1913, deeply troubled by criticisms of his role in developing the engine, he mysteriously vanished from a ship on a voyage to England, presumably committing suicide [Lienhard 2000]. After Diesel’s patents started to expire, a number of other companies took his invention and developed it further.