The History of Diesel Truck Engines


The history of the diesel truck engine began in the late 19th century with Rudolf Diesel, who survived a near death experience in his engineering efforts to design a functioning internal combustion engine that operated without using a spark to ignite the fuel. Diesel was granted a patent in 1898 for the first "internal combustion engine" which became known as the Diesel engine.


  • Rudolf Diesel's desire to enable independent craftsmen to compete with large industry was a prime motivating force in his efforts to build an internal combustion engine in which fuel was "pressure-ignited." His social outlook led him to apply his engineering and inventive prowess toward the creation of the engine that bears his name. His efforts were greatly rewarded, financially speaking; he became a millionaire in 1898 as his engine found widespread application.


  • German corporation MAN A.G. (Maschinenfabrik Augsburg-Nürnberg A.G.), the result of Maschinenfabrik Augsburg merging with Eisengießerei und Maschinenfabrik Klett & Company in 1908, began developing the new and revolutionary engine invented by Rudolf Diesel. Anton von Rieppel introduced the first direct-injection diesel truck at the Berlin Automotive Exhibition in December 1924. Its success was due largely to MAN AG engineers' development of the fuel-injection pump the previous year.

More Developments

  • The man called the "father of the American diesel truck"--Clessie L. Cummins--adapted Rudolf Diesel's engine for mobile use. Born in Indiana in 1888, he built- at age 11--an engine to get water for his father's farm. In 1919 he founded the Cummings Engine Company in Columbus, Indiana, with financial assistance from his former employer, William Irwin. He designed and built a gasoline engine in Irwin's garage in 1915 and collaborated with others, including professional race car drivers and other engineers, to set speed and mileage records.


  • Research is bringing significant improvements to the modern diesel truck engine. Engineers at the Technische Universitaet Muenchen (TUM) are working on a project called NEMo, a German acronym meaning "lowest emission diesel engine for trucks." A test engine is used that injects the air-exhaust mixture into the combustion chamber under pressure that is more than double that which production vehicles can handle, allowing the diesel fuel to burn completely, very quickly and almost soot-free.


  • With the continuing uncertainty in fuel prices, the diesel engine has enjoyed new consideration. Its fuel-efficiency has allowed it to be integral in vehicle models deemed trendy or sporty. The same asset now permits it to rival the hybrids because diesels run efficiently in all operating modes.

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  • Photo Credit fuel truck image by Steve Mann from diesel engine image by leafy from tractor image by Alison Bowden from the black sports car. image by Yuri Bizgaimer from
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