A Belgian machine builder is the real inventor of the revolutionary Wankel engine

More than 66 years ago, in Laakdal, a small town in the Belgian province of Limburg, world-class industrial history was written in a small workshop. Staf Beckers, a simple machine builder, discovered a new version of an explosion engine. All conditions were met to write a mythical story entitled 'From workman to genius inventor', until a German took the honors, causing the revolutionary engine to go down in history as the "Wankel engine" and not the "Beckers engine".

For six years, Staf Beckers tinkered with his motor in his workshop. He had made thousands of sketches and made improvements hundreds of times. His search ended on a memorable day in December 1956. That morning he poured gasoline into the tank, turned on the gasifier and compressor, turned on the power to generate the sparks, and with a hellish noise the engine started. The motor ran for eight minutes. Eight minutes of noise. But it was clear to him. He had invented the explosion engine that day. It was a milestone with the same impact as Rudolf Diesel's first engine, which ran for exactly one minute in 1894. A success story of a little man who would amaze the world with a great discovery seemed to be in the making. But things would turn out differently.

Staf Beckers in his workshop

Felix Wankel, a South German who ran a bookstore in Lindau and an ex-Nazi member, also tinkered with a motor in his spare hours, almost exactly the same as that of Staf Beckers. The German patented his invention three years after the successful experiment in Staf Beckers workshop. The reason for this was the 100,000 Belgian francs that Wankel paid to register his patent on this invention, an amount of money that Beckers did not have in 1956.

He was only 54 years old when he suffered cardiac arrest. Gustaaf 'Staf' Beckers was buried in 1978 under the modest shadow of the church tower of his small village. But he could just as well have had a mausoleum in an industrial metropolis in the United States.

If history and inventor rights were more just, we would now speak of the 'Beckers engine' and not the 'Wankel engine'.