Inventor Rudolf Diesel Disappears – 9/29/1913

History |

Rudolf Diesel was an inventor, entrepreneur, and mechanical engineer, as famous for his mysterious death as he was for the invention of the diesel engine.

On September 29th of 1913, Rudolph Diesel boarded a ship called the Dresden, on his way from Antwerp to London for a meeting. While on board the ship that evening, he arranged to be woken in the morning. When a member of the ship's crew went in to wake him up, Rudolph Diesel was gone, and his bed had not been slept in. His coat and scarf were found neatly folded at the edge of the ship's deck, with nothing but deep, Dark Ocean below.

Rudolph Diesel was a German born in Paris in 1858. He was the second of three children born to Bavarian immigrants. Like most Germans, the family was forced to leave France at the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war in 1870. The family eventually settled in London, but Rudolph's mother, primarily interested in his education, sent him to live with an aunt and uncle in Germany. That way, Rudolph could become fluent in German and attend the Royal County Trade School, where his uncle taught math.

After finishing his basic education, Diesel enrolled in the Industrial School of Augsburg. Two years later, he received a scholarship to study at the Royal Bavarian Polytechnic of Munich. He accepted the scholarship against the wishes of his parents, as they would rather he started working and earning money. However, one of Rudolph Diesel's professors at Munich was Carl von Linde, a German scientist who would later employ Diesel to work on his refrigeration techniques.

Diesel married Martha Flasche in 1883, as he continued to work for Carl Linde, filing patents here and there, but none of them for his own personal use. His first attempts at building engines were questionable at best. He tried building a steam engine that ran on ammonia vapor. The explosion almost killed him.

Diesel moved to Berlin in 1890 with his wife and three children. In 1893, he began working on the engine that would come to be known as the diesel engine. It was much more energy efficient than steam engines of the day. By 1912, there were more than 70,000 diesel engines around the world. 

Diesel's death on September 29th of 1913 has been officially judged a suicide, although there are always those annoying conspiracy theorists. Tabloids had a field day with it. However, the truth is that, according to his bank account info, Diesel was practically broke. In his diary, which was left on the ship, he drew a cross on the page for September 29th of 1913. Some days later, a body was found, but was too decomposed to recognize, and was sent back into the sea.

A week later, Rudolph Diesel's wife Martha opened an envelope her husband had given her just before leaving, and had asked her not to open it for a week. Inside the envelope was the equivalent of (by today's standards) 1.2 million dollars.

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