One hundred and twenty years ago this summer — in 1893 — Rudolf Diesel fired up a single-cylinder engine attached to a flywheel. The contraption was fueled by peanut oil.
He must have been relieved as the engine sputtered to life because Diesel had worked for years on a new idea: that higher levels of compression within the engine could ignite the fuel, thus replacing the spark required by conventional internal combustion engines.
It is highly unlikely that Diesel — born in Paris in 1858 of German parents — could have possibly conceived how the engine bearing his name would revolutionize the world of transportation.
Diesel's early plan was spelled...