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William Murdock and the Gas Industry
A waggon and cart horses © Shirley Burchill
A steam engine © Shirley Burchill
A Prague tram © Shirley Burchill
TWO CENTURIES OF REVOLTIONARY CHANGE
The Second Industrial Revolution
Urbanisation and Public Transport
By the last two decades of the 19th century that electric power would replace steam power as the driving force of the second Industrial Revolution. Surprisingly, it was the growth of towns and cities, as a result of the Industrial Revolution, that gave a boost to the introduction of this form of traction.
The rapid growth of towns and cities in the 19th century led to a number of problems. Not least of these was the provision of an adequate transport network to carry workers to and from their places of work in an efficient and economical manner. Overcrowding on the streets and the resulting "traffic jams", caused by horse-drawn vehicles, was already a growing problem by the middle of the century.
At this time, public transport was in its infancy. Although railways were available to carry people over longer distances outside the towns and cities, the shorter, inter-urban journeys were generally made in a horse-drawn vehicle. The number of horses in itself caused major problems in big cities, such as London. The horses had to be fed, watered and stabled. This meant that horse troughs had to be supplied at regular intervals along the streets and stables needed to be supplied with huge amounts of food and bedding straw. However, the major problem was the enormous amount of horse manure that lay everywhere on the streets. This created two problems - an awful smell and the problem of crossing any road without getting very messy! In fact, on payment of a small fee, young children, called "crossing sweepers", would walk ahead of a pedestrian, using a broom to clear a path through the piles of manure.
Despite the large number of horse-drawn vehicles, which included the omnibus capable of carrying 20 or more passengers, this type of transport was generally too expensive for the poorer workers. A cheaper form of inter-urban transport was needed. This was developed by combining the forces of two 19th century inventions.
The Development of Tramways
From the very beginning of railway development, the idea of expanding a railway into and through an urban area had been suggested. In many towns and cities a tramway system grew up using horse-drawn trams. These were pulled along tracks running through the streets. At first these trams copied the idea of the horse-drawn omnibus, but, since they moved on rails, each horse could pull a much larger load. This made the tram more economical than the omnibus.
Progress in steam technology inevitably led to the introduction of steam hauled trams. These were designed with either a separate engine or a steam motor mounted on the tramcar itself. Steam trams were subject to many restrictions because they were thought to frighten horses, cause pollution and be so dangerous that all of the moving parts needed to be covered up. Despite these fears, many cities in Europe, such as Paris, were able to develop networks of steam trams. However, it was the development of the electric motor that enabled tramways to become the cheap form of inter-urban transport needed by workers.
The tramcar, powered by an electric motor supplied by electricity from overhead cables, proved to be a fast and efficient method of transport. A tramcar was also 48% cheaper than a horse-drawn tram. By the end of the 19th century, most European towns and cities had developed extensive networks of electric tramways.
Other rapid transit systems were also developed. As early as 1863, an underground railway, powered by steam engines, had been built in London. However, by the end of the century, in both London and Paris, electrically driven underground railway networks had been built. The idea of electric traction for public transport was shown to be a success.
An early poster for the London underground
It was during the period of application of these "new technologies" that the lead Britain took in the first Industrial Revolution was steadily eroded. Both Germany and the USA were rapidly becoming world industrial leaders, particularly in the production of electric traction and associated developments.
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