August 9: Rudolph Diesel wins a U.S. patent for his engine on this date in 1898
There's no part of the world that hasn't been touched in some way by the work of Rudolph Diesel, a German-born engineer who discovered how to create an engine that was far more thermally efficient than steam power. After struggling with his designs for years -- and nearly being killed when one exploded -- Diesel cracked the idea of compression ignition. A majority of the world's ships, most of its trucks and heavy machinery, and many of its cars derive their power from his basic idea. Diesel himself never lived to see much of his success; he disappeared from a ship in 1913, and biographers believe he committed suicide in despair over his finances and legal battles.