On this day in auto history - September 28th

Tue 28th Sep 2021

It was on this day in 1913 that Rudolf Diesel - the celebrated German inventor of the engine which bears his name - mysteriously vanished from a steamship whilst travelling across the North Sea from Belgium to England.

The alarm was raised the following morning when Diesel failed to show for a pre-arranged breakfast meeting. After a full search of the ship, the inventor could not be found, leading the crew to believe he must have fallen overboard.

Ten days later, a Dutch tugboat found a decomposed corpse floating in the North Sea near Norway. Personal items retrieved from the clothing of the dead body were later identified as belonging to Diesel, though the corpse itself was left at sea.

The fact that Diesel’s body was never recovered prevented an autopsy from taking place, meaning the ensuing suicide verdict was reached through circumstantial rather than forensic evidence. Even today, this continues to stir suspicion among conspiracy theorists who believe he could have been murdered. 

At the time of his death there were more than 70,000 diesel engines working around the world, mostly in factories and generators, but Diesel himself wouldn’t live to see his engine revolutionise the railroad and motor industries.