Rudolf Diesel was vain, oversensitive, and paranoid. His stubborn and persistent disposition clouded his ability to make friends, while his sanctimonious bluster alienated those even in his own field. He was revolutionary, a Renaissance man in a Victorian era, a mechanical Michelangelo, painting with grease and gears, pressure and heat. He enjoyed opera, played classical piano, spoke three languages fluently, only wore tailored suits, and took long walks daily. Diesel was as comfortable discussing poetry, language, and art as he was the properties of thermodynamics, the efficiency of steam, and—most importantly—engines. By 1913, thousands of engines bearing his name were puffing away noisily in factories around the world, but all was not well. On September 29, 1913, during a particularly cold crossing from Antwerp to England, Diesel stepped over the stern railing of the steamship Dresden—and jumped.

Diesel’s body was found floating near Norway 10 days later. Conspiracy theories flourished.

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