Rudolf Diesel was the brilliant German inventor of the diesel engine. His invention was meant to be a cleaner, safer way to power ships, cars and much more. He was something of a visionary when it came to greener fuel, long before anyone had even conceived of “going green.” Unfortunately, his invention led the already depressed man to become more troubled. He was under pressure trying to fund his invention and sell it. Rudolf Diesel, who was once a rich man, found himself in debt from funding the development of his engine. The pressure he was under and the depression that he displayed for most of his life may have driven him to commit suicide. Or did it?
Rudolf Christian Karl Diesel published a description of his invention in 1893 titled “The Theory and Construction of a Rational Heat Engine.” That very same year he built the first diesel engine and acquired a patent for it. He ran into some problems and had to work with it a lot to get it functioning properly, but he was diligent. He eventually had his engine running on peanut oil and later, vegetable oil. Wide use of Rudolf Diesel’s engine would have made petroleum-based fuel obsolete.
The idea to run the engine on hempseed oil came about as well. The idea was destroyed by marijuana prohibition after Rudolf Diesel’s death. Not that it would have mattered much. The change to “greener fuel” has yet to take place, more than one hundred years after Rudolf Diesel made that change possible.
The diesel engine eventually became a much sought after commodity. It would eventually replace the more cumbersome and dangerous fuels, such as coal, that were being used on ships and such, at the time. It would make these ships faster, cleaner and more efficient. If one country had a monopoly on these engines, it would have given them a strong military advantage.
On September 29, 1913, Rudolf Diesel was aboard the USS Dresden. The mail steamer was on an overnight voyage across the English Channel from Antwerp to Harwich. Rudolf was on his way to attend the opening of a diesel engine factory. He was in debt and reportedly very depressed, but he was by no means without expectations. He was seen eating dinner aboard the USS Dresden that night. Following dinner, he retired to his cabin. This was around 10:00 p.m. If he was ever seen alive again, the person or people who did the seeing never came forward.
On the morning of September 30, 1913, Rudolf Diesel’s cabin was found empty. The only evidence left of the man was a coat and hat that were discovered on deck. There were no signs of foul play and nobody witnessed any suspicious activity aboard the mail steamer. On October 9 a man’s body was found floating in the North Sea. The fishermen who had discovered the body took note of the dead man’s clothing, retrieved the man’s belongings and then threw the body back into the water. The man’s belongings were later identified by Rudolf Diesel’s son.
There is no doubt that Rudolf Diesel’s death has been sensationalized in the nearly one hundred years that have passed since it occurred. It has been officially ruled a suicide and there are many indications that this was so. However, there are a few conspiracy theories, regardless. It is thought that he may have been killed by the German government so that he wouldn’t share his ideas with other countries, thus giving them the advantage of more efficient vehicles. It is also thought that he may have been killed by a hitman hired by the leaders of the petroleum industry. However, this is unlikely. Back then, the petroleum industry was not the powerhouse that it is today. Another theory is that he was killed and his ideas for his invention stolen.
It is unlikely that Rudolf Diesel’s death was anything more than the suicide of a desperately unhappy man. Nonetheless, there will likely always be conspiracy theories surrounding his death. No one was there when the man went overboard, so we can’t know for certain what exactly occurred. Moreover, there was never a body to inspect, and the circumstances surrounding the discovery of his belongings are suspicious.
Rudolf Diesel: His Invention and Mysterious Death, retrieved 1/28/10, germanculture.com.ua/library/weekly/rudolf_diesel.htm
Rudolf Diesel: 1858-1913, retrieved 1/28/10, hempcar.org/diesel.shtml