Felix Heinrich Wankel (August 13, 1902 – October 9, 1988) was a German mechanical engineer and inventor after whom the Wankel engine was named.
Wankel was born in Lahr, Germany, in the upper Rhine Valley. He was the only son of Gerty Wankel (née Heidlauff) and Rudolf Wankel, a forest assessor. His father fell in World War I. Thereafter, the family moved to Heidelberg. He went to high schools in Donaueschingen, Heidelberg, and Weinheim, but dropped out in 1921. Then he learned to be a purchaser for the Carl Winter Press in Heidelberg. He lost his job because of economic problems in 1926.
He was gifted since childhood with an ingenous spatial imagination, and became interested in the world of machines, especially for combustion engines. Since his mother was widowed, Wankel received no university education or even an apprenticeship. However, he was able to teach himself technical subjects and conceived the idea of the Wankel engine in 1924.
Wankel and the NSDAP
Felix Wankel joined the German Nazi Party in 1921. At this point of time, he was convinced of the ideals of the Party. Beginning in 1930s, he was the Gauleiter of the Hitler Youth in Baden. Wankel had sympathy for the left wing of the NSDAP centered around Gregor Strasser. The high point of his Party membership was a meeting with Adolf Hitler in 1928. In 1932, Felix Wankel left the Party in particular because of disagreements with the Gauleiter of Baden, Robert Wagner. He had raised severe charges of corruption against another Party member. In 1933, he was arrested because of Gauleiter Wagner, who was embroiled in the corruption and cover-up scandal, and held for six months. He was freed after the financier Wilhelm Keppler intervened.
During World War II, Wankel developed seals and rotary valves for German air force aircraft and navy torpedoes. After the war, he was imprisoned by the Allies for some months, his laboratory was closed by French occupation troops, his work was confiscated, and he was prohibited from doing more work. However, by 1951, he got funding from the Goetze AG company to furnish the new Technical Development Center in his private house in Lindau on Lake Constance. He began development of the engine at NSU (NSU Motorenwerke AG), leading to the first running prototype on February 1, 1957.  His engine design was first licensed by Curtiss-Wright in New Jersey, US.
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