- Diesel is a word best know in its application to an internal combustion engine that utilizes compressed air on which a spray of fuel ignites at a virtually constant temperature. This engine injects crude oil, an oil sold by gasoline stations today because many automobiles and even more trucks and buses are driven by diesel engines.The story behind the invention of the diesel engine is quite a romantic one; in fact, it is a life-and-death story. It begins with the Franco- Prussian War of 1870. Rudolf Diesel (1858-1913) was born in Paris of German parents who fled to England to avoid the war. Wishing to continue the German education of young Rudolf, his father sent him to Augsburg to an uncle who had offered to take care of him until the war ended. And so at the age of twelve, the boy, an identification tag around his neck, set out by train for his uncle's home. The trip took eight bumpy days, with the engine breaking down intermittently.Rudolf enrolled at the Munich Polytechnical School. While at his studies he often thought of his uncomfortable train ride to Augsburg, and he determined to produce an engine that would be more efficient than those powered by steam or gas. To this end, Diesel, a student of thermodynamics, conducted numerous experiments and succeeded in constructing an engine—but it blew up in his face. Diesel's diary contained this notation: "The birth of an idea is the happy moment in which everything appears possible and reality has not yet entered into the problem." But Diesel's blown-up engine proved to him that fuel could be ignited by air compression rather than electrical ignition, which meant that sparks were unnecessary.Although he was almost killed, Diesel remained undaunted. He realized that he hadn't used the right fuel. He then experimented with many substances, from alcohol to peanut oil, and finally discovered that a semirefined crude oil appeared to be the solution. The diesel engine was born, an engine that functions more efficiently than any other. It is used to power trucks, locomotives, ships, and electric generators, among other things, and is considered a major source of industrial power.Diesel's life ended in misfortune. While traveling on a German ship, the Dresden, from Belgium to England, Diesel mysteriously disappeared. He had bade goodnight to some colleagues, but after entering his stateroom, he was never seen again. His bed had not been slept in, and the only clues to his untimely end were his spectacles and cap lying near the ship's stern. Ten days later another ship fished a corpse out of the water. It was determined that the corpse was Diesel's. Whether his death was suicide, murder, or an accident has never been resolved.
Dictionary of eponyms. Morton S. Freeman. 2013.