In 1903, Dr. Rudolph Diesel, working with French engineers Adrian Bochet and Frederic Dyckhoff had used a small diesel engine to power a canal boat. It was the first application of a diesel for marine propulsion.
That same year, diesel engines for the propulsion of larger vessels were already being pioneered in Russia. Nobel Bros. had used diesel engine propulsion in the 244 ft 6 in x 31 ft 9 in Wandal. The triple-screw vessel, which operated on the Volga River in Russia, was powered by three triple-cylinder diesel engines, each developing a 120 hp at 240 rev/min.

November 4, 1911 ushered in a new era. That day the 6,800 dwt Selandia, the first oceangoing diesel engine-powered ship, was launched at Burmeister & Wain, Shipyard in Copenhagen, Denmark. Delivered in February 1912, the 370 ft x 53 ft Selandia was one of three such ships ordered by the Danish trading firm East Asiatic Company for service between Scandinavia, Genoa, Italy, and Bangkok, Thailand.
Propulsion power was supplied by two eight-cylinder, four-cycle, 1,250 hp diesel engines in a twin-screw arrangement. The engines had both crossheads and piston rods.

SelandiaBuilt for cargo and passenger carriage, the Selandia had "very ample and rather luxurious" cabins for 20 first class passengers-one-berth cabins of "exceptional size, with toilet and bath for every two cabins-and an extra feature is the servants' rooms, arranged in connection with private cabins."

Reporting on the sea trials of the Selandia in its April 1912 issue, International Marine Engineering said, "the future of the big motor ship is practically assured." After official acceptance tests, Burmeister & Wain, Shipyard, Copenhagen, was "inundated with orders for similar vessels from steamship owners who were aboard, and now has enough marine oil [vessel] contracts on hand to keep them busy for about three years."
That same year, manufacturers M.A.N., Messrs. Sulzer Bros., Krupp's Germania Yards, Vickers Sons & Maxim, and Messrs. Carels Freres were already busy testing high-power two-stroke marine engines, with as much as 2,000 hp per cylinder.
Commenting on the tests, Dr. Diesel said, "If, as seems probable, these tests give satifactory results, the era of very large Diesel engines has come."