100-years ago today, Rudolf Diesel (the man) died while a passenger on an overnight trip on the steamship Dresden. Diesel was traveling from Antwerp, Belgium, to the town of Harwich in England with his close friend Georges Carels, and Diesel’s chief engineer, Alfred Luckmann. The three men were on their way to a shareholder’s meeting of Consolidated Diesel Engine Manufacturers Ltd (Condec), and had planned to visit its newest factory in Ipswich.
Rudolf never made it to England.
According to Lyle Cummins’ book (yes, that Cummins) Diesel’s Engine (which is an awesome book, by the way), Rudolf was last seen around 10:00 pm when he retired to his stateroom for the night. When he did not join his traveling companions for breakfast the next morning, a search was mounted.
Rudolf’s bed did not appear slept in, though his watch, keys, and baggage were still in his room. According to Diesel’s Engine, Carels reported to London’s The Times that Rudolf had been suffering from insomnia, and had enjoyed no more than two hours of sleep a night for the last two weeks. So there was some feeling that Rudolf may have fallen overboard while on a late-night stroll, due to the ship’s short 4-foot, six-inch-tall railings.
There was also speculation that secret agents, working to prevent Rudolf from delivering designs for a new submarine diesel engine to the British, murdered Rudolf. Sadly, death by suicide seems to be the current belief held by historians.
Whatever the reason for Rudolf’s disappearance, there was in fact a body recovered near the mouth of the Scheldt River on October 11, 1913. Though the remains were returned to the sea, the personal effects were removed in hopes of identifying whom the deceased was. Rudolf’s son confirmed that the property found was that of his father.
Today, Rudolf Diesel’s legacy lives on in the fuel, engine, and combustion cycle that bare his name. His genius also lives on in all of us who pursue the best that engines can offer.