Ah, the diesel engine. For all the enthusiasts (and indeed, non-enthusiasts) it symbolises the very pinnacle of revolutionary engineering, the true driving force behind every industry up to this very day.
It all started in 1858, with the arrival of Rudolph Diesel. This young chap, who was studying thermodynamics during a period where steam engines were the primary source of power, was about to change the way industry worked. Steam engines used coal, were very inefficient and therefore expensive. Enter young Diesel, and his big ideas. He decided that he could invent a smaller, internal combustion engine, that could convert all the heat it created into power, making it much more efficient than the current steam engines.
At the age of 27, Diesel set up shop to begin developing his idea for a compression ignition engine, a process which last 13 years. He further developed his ideas at Maschinefabrik-Augsburg AG, now known as MAN.
In addition to MAN, the Sulzer Brothers of Switzerland also took an early interest in Diesel’s work, and had bought certain rights to his invention in 1893.
The first prototype testing began in 1893, with a 150mm bore/400mm stroke design. Like most great inventions, the initial engine test was unsuccessful, and Diesel had to go back to the drawing board. A series of improvements led to the first successful test in February, 1897, almost 125 years ago.
Diesel’s invention needed further development, time and work to become a commercial success. Unfortunately, the process took its toll on Rudolph Diesel, and in 1913, he mysteriously vanished from a ship on the way to England, and is presumed to have committed suicide, although the theories around this are extensive.