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The Agricultural Revolution Index

Introduction to the Agricultural Revolution

The Industrial Revolution Index

Introduction to the First Industrial Revolution

The Development of Roads and Railways Index

Roads and Railways : Introduction
The Development of Roads
The Development of the Railway
The Development of the Steam Locomotive :
Richard Trevithick

The Development of the Steam Locomotive :
John Blenkinsop

Building the Railways : Introduction
Building the Railways : Isambard Kingdom Brunel
Railway Mania
The Social and Economic Effects of the Railway

History Chapters Main Index

 

Chronology of the Development of the Railways 1789 - 1890

1760's

Abraham Darby laid an iron plateway

1760's

Nicholas Cugnot invented the first steam propelled vehicle

1760

1786's

William Murdock invented a model road engine similar to Cugnot's

1789's

William Jessop introduced flanged waggon wheels

1780

1801's

Trevithick's first passenger steam vehicle went into operation

1805's

Wandsworth-Croydon public railway opened

1806's

Oystermouth railway - first passenger railway in Wales was built

1808's

Trevithick's 'Catch -me-who-can' locomotive was built

1800

1812's

Blenkinsop's railway locomotive hauled coal from Middleton to Leeds

1813's

Hedley's 'Puffing Billy' was built for use on non-toothed track

1810

1820's

Wrought iron rails used to make railways

1825's

Stockton to Darlington railway line opened

1827's

First railway tunnel built under Liverpool

1829's

Stephenson's 'Rocket' wins Rainhill trials (Britain)
Marc Sequin built first French steam locomotive

1820

1930's

Liverpool to Manchester line opened (Britain)

1832's

First steam locomotive powered railway opened in France

1835's

Joseph Locke designed bulkhead rail

1837's

Telegraph used to connect signal boxes

1830

1840's

First railway excursion

1846's

Standard gauge introduced in Britain

1840

1851's

First refrigerated coaches

1859's

Pullman cars

1850

1863's

First underground railway

1865's

USA adopted standard gauge

1869's

First rack railway (Mount Washington, USA)

1860

1879's

Von Seimen's electric train operated in Berlin

1870

1881's

First electric passenger train used in Germany

1889's

Block signalling and continuous braking in Britain

1880

1890's

First electric underground train

1890

1912's

First diesel electric trains (Sweden)

1910

 

The opening of the Stockton to Darlington railway

The opening of the Stockton to Darlington railway

 

 

 

 

TWO CENTURIES OF REVOLTIONARY CHANGE

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The Industrial Revolution

The Development of the Steam Locomotive :
George Stephenson

If Richard Trevithick was the 'father' of the steam locomotive, then the 'father' of the railways was the first railway engineer, George Stephenson. Stephenson developed the steam locomotive into the powerful workhorse that formed the foundation of the modern railway system. It was Stephenson who pioneered railway construction and undertook all of the tasks involved in building railways, such as locomotive design and production, surveying, levelling and building the railway track.

Stephenson was a self-made man who came from humble origins. He started his working life when he was still very young and, at the age of fifteen, he was already responsible for working the steam pumps at a coal mine. His natural talent for engineering meant that he was eventually placed in charge of the mine's steam engines. He was able to experiment and make improvements to their efficiency. At the same time, Stephenson was interested in the idea of a 'travelling steam engine'. He felt that he could improve the work of other pioneers of steam and locomotive development.

The first steam locomotives had been wasteful of energy. The steam had been lost into the air after it had been used to move the cylinders and the fire lacked a draft of air to make it burn well. Stephenson solved both of these inefficiencies by building an extension to the boiler, called a smokebox. The exhaust steam from the cylinders was fed through this box. A partial vacuum was created at each stroke of the piston.

This partial vacuum drew in air through the boiler tubes. The air, known as steam blast, made the fire hotter and the locomotive became more efficient. Stephenson's first steam blast engine was called Blücher. This engine was used at the Killingworth colliery and it produced double of the power of the engine it replaced. The steam blast was able to pull 30 tonnes of wagons at around 7 kilometres per hour. Stephenson's second engine patented in 1815 was an improvement on the Blücher in both construction and design.

 

George Stephenson (1781 - 1848)

 

George Stephenson

George Stephenson

George Stephenson was born in Wylam, near Newcastle. He had no formal education and he taught himself to read by attending night classes. His first job was a fireman. Later, in 1812, he became a colliery engineer at Killingworth. Between 1814 and 1826 he designed and built steam engines to pull coal. In 1815 he designed a miner's safety lamp. Stephenson shared the credit for this invention with Humphrey Davy who had, independently, come up with the same design.

By 1821 Stephenson was managing his own factory in Newcastle. It was here that he designed and constructed the Stockton to Darlington railway line which became the first to carry passengers. Between 1826 and 1830 he supervised the construction of the Manchester to Liverpool railway. Stephenson drove the first passenger train himself. It reached a record speed of 35 m.p.h..

 

Robert Stephenson went on to construct railway bridges at Newcastle and in Wales. His bridge across the Tyne was a high-level construction, whereas those across the Menai Straights and the River Conway were tubular bridges.

 

There was a great deal of interest in Stephenson's invention and he was asked to build a railway in Lancashire to rum from Stockton to Darlington. This railway, which took three years to build, was opened in 1825.

It was the world's first steam railway, with locomotives pulling both goods and passengers along a track of wrought iron rails. Stephenson designed and constructed a new locomotive for the Stockton to Darlington railway. This locomotive, called "Locomotion No.1", showed further improvements in design.

 

Locomotion Number 1

Locomotion Number 1
Courtesy of Darlington Railway Centre and Museum

 

Not everybody in Britain was happy about Stephenson's success. In fact, there were many fears and complaints. It was said that steam locomotives frightened cows and stopped chickens from laying eggs. They were also said to poison the air and set fire to houses near the line. It was even suggested that steam engines would make the horse redundant. Some people even believed that is a man travelled at 50 kilometres per hour he would be crushed by the resulting air pressure! However, whatever the opposition, the steam railway was here to stay.

 

The Rainhill Competition 1829

Stephenson was next commissioned to construct a railway to link two English cities, Liverpool and Manchester. However, the directors of this railway were still suspicious of the steam locomotive. Some of them wanted stationary engines which would pull the wagons along using cables, while others were still promoting the use of the horse. To prove that the steam locomotive was the best option, a competition was held at Rainhill in 1829.

There were four locomotives entered in the competition. The Novelty, built by Braithwaite and Ericsson, The Perseverance, built by Burstall, the Sans Pareil, built by Hackworth, and the Rocket built by George Stephenson and his son, Robert. The Rocket proved to be the fastest of the four and travelled at up to 50 kilometres per hour. Orders were placed for seven more Rockets and the Liverpool to Manchester line was completed and opened in 1830.

 

Drawing of Sans Pareil from 1829

Drawing of Sans Pareil from 1829

 

Stephenson's "Rocket"

George Stephenson and his son, Robert, were perhaps most famous for their entry into a competition to design a railway engine which would pull both freight and passengers. The "Rocket" won them £500 in prize money.

 

The First Passenger Trains

The early railway carriages looked like three stage coaches joined together. They were upholstered in soft, padded leather. However, this comfort was restricted to first class passengers. The second class passengers had only wooden seats and the third class passengers either sat on wooden benches or stood in open coaches. For those who could afford it, it was possible to place a horse-drawn carriage on a flat-bed wagon. This ensured privacy.

George Stephenson was in great demand. he was commissioned to build railways both in Britain and in other parts of the world. The first steam locomotive railway in France was opened in 1832. The first steam locomotive to run on a French railway had been built by George Sequin in 1829 for a railway at Lyon. Sequin used rotary fans, driven by the tender wheels, which forced a draught of air through the pipes and into the firebox, thus increasing heat output. In the 1840's the Stephenson works built nine locomotives for the line between Marseille and Avignon.

 

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