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          A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Rudolf Diesel

Paris, Paris, Paris, why is there so often and so much talk about this city?, and what has it got to do with the internal combustion- and motor vehicle engines? As early as 1860 the first engine with internal combustion was invented here, in 1863 it was installed into a vehicle. Otto exhibited here in 1867. During the EXPO in 1889 Gottlieb Daimler finalised one of his most important contracts. Benz was, at the same time, also represented, indeed, with much less success. At that time, with the highest (Eiffel-) tower in the world, this city had something special.

You've guessed it, Rudolf Christian Karl Diesel, of all people, was born here in 1858. His parents had very recently immgrated from the South of Germany. His father was originally a bookbinder who now managed a mid-size operation with about 5 employees, producing small leather goods. His mother was a governess in Great Britain and in addition, spoke French fluently. The income of the family was seasonal and mostly, rather in quite short supply. Perhaps it was the hardship of his youth, which made his life, especially after so much success, so difficult.

In any event, the boy with a multitude of interests was said to have a particular talent for mechanics. His performances at school were very much emphasised. He visited at least one of the EXPOs in Paris with his parents, in addition, there was the famous Technical Museum in the near vicinity which exhibited, among other things, the great steam engines of the time and the Cugnot-Steam car. Rudolf Diesel's youth was described as being not particularly happy. Through delivering the products he got to know the palatial houses as well as the poorer quarters.

Nevertheless, Rudolf Diesel's youth was very eventful, he lived on the run, because of the German-French war from 1870 to '71, for a while in Great Britain. Then at the age of 12 he was placed with foster parents in Augsburg, because the family income was not sufficient to support him and his two sisters as well. At least his foster father, who was a mathematics teacher at the vocational school, was also his uncle, which was a good starting point for his plans of studying in Munich, indeed, only at the age of 17, after visiting the industrial- and vocational school. By the way he finished the latter with far above average examination results.

It is said to be, a (cigarette) lighter, which showed Rudolf Diesel the way to an earth-shattering invention. It was much bigger than those known to us today, and allowed such a sudden compression of the air, that a wick started to burn. Other sources however, refer to lectures by professor von Linde in Munich who explained the Carnot-ideal process to his students. Rudolf Diesel's studies in Munich were, by no means easy. In spite of scholarships and giving extra lessons in French, financial misery dominated his life. Nonetheless, he remained very successful. Parts of his first-semester works even made the honours-roll at the EXPOs.

Perhaps his contracting the Typhoid-disease in the summer of 1879 was a result of over taxation (burn-out syndrom). In any event, he had to postpone his final exams for six months to then be tested by more professors than was usual. In spite of this, apparently the examination went off brilliantly. After a half-year intermezzo at the Sulzer Machine-Works in Switzerland, his connections to professor Carl von Linde who he admired a great deal, helped him to a position in a newly established ice-factory in Paris. Almost three years later he married Martha Flasche, the daughter of a solitcitor, with whom he had three children.

He remained in Paris for 10 years, researching and also doing practical tests in the quest for the efficiency-optimised engine. His interest was, first and foremost, in ammonia as a refrigerant. Only in the course of further development did he make an attempt at steam. During this time he moved to the Linde-headquarters in Berlin, which, at the same time, kept him away from his leisure-time work. The principle of the engine which he had in mind became rather more simple towards the end. It is the high-compression engine with endothermic (internal) combustion which is caused by self-ignition. Thereby, the largest variety of fuels, including even coal-dust, are possible. For the technical realisation however, one assumed immense problems because of the 250 bar final-compression which he required.

In 1892 he published the “Theory and construction of a rational heat-engine”. At the latest now, it was clear, that the Diesel-engine differed from other similar inventions. Particularly in the machine construction of the time, one could experience just how little the previous invention would be advanced through the next one. Sometimes the new one is simply a summary of the, more or less well known facts. The Diesel engine, originally a theoretical construct, was in various respects, entering new territory. It is also interesting, that only after Rudolf Diesel's publication, was it extensively discussed in the scientific-professional world, before he had constructed even one single part.

It took four, long years, before Rudolf Diesel, in cooperation with the Maschinenfabrik Augsburg (Nürnberg)* and the Krupp company on the 28th of January 1897, presented the first engine to the public. If one would think, now that the inventor has reached his target and that his life would now become more tranquil, then one would be making a grave mistake. 04/11 *only from 1898 onwards Maschinenfabrik Augsburg-Nürnberg AG

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Translator: Don Leslie - Email:

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