Railroad History

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George Stephenson, the Father of Railways

Known as the Father of Railways, George Stephenson was a British civil engineer and mechanical engineer. Pioneered by Stephenson, rail transport was one of the most important technological inventions of the 19th century and a key component of the Industrial Revolution. 

The Stephenson Gauge

The rail gauge used by Stephenson, often refered to as the Stephenson gauge, was the basis for the 4 feet 8 1⁄2 inches standard gauge used by most of the world's railways even today.

The Blucher

Stephenson's first the Blucher, an engine that drew eight loaded wagons carrying 30 tons of coal at 4 miles per hour.

The Steam Blast

Never content, Stephenson introduced the steam blast. Stephenson increased the draft by redirecting exhaust steam up the chimney, pulling air after it. The new design made the locomotive truly practical.

Safety Lamp for Mining

While continuing to build additional locomotives, each improving upon the last, Stephenson gained a measure of fame by inventing a mine-safety lamp.

Stockton to Darlington Line

In 1821 he heard of a project for a railroad, employing draft horses, to be built from Stockton to Darlington to facilitate exploitation of a rich vein of coal. At Darlington he interviewed the promoter, Edward Pease, and so impressed him that Pease commissioned him to build a steam locomotive for the line. On September 27, 1825, railroad transportation was born when the first public passenger train, pulled by Stephenson’s Active (later renamed Locomotion), ran from Darlington to Stockton, carrying 450 persons at 15 miles per hour.

Liverpool to Manchester Line

Liverpool and Manchester interests called him in to build a 40-mile railroad line to connect the two cities. To survey and construct the line, Stephenson had to outwit the violent hostility of farmers and landlords who feared, among other things, that the railroad would supplant horse-drawn transportation and shut off the market for oats.

When the Liverpool to Manchester line was nearing completion in 1829, a competition was held for locomotives; Stephenson’s new engine, the Rocket, which he built with his son, Robert, won with a speed of 36 miles per hour. Eight locomotives were used when the Liverpool to Manchester line opened on September 15, 1830, and all of them had been built in Stephenson’s Newcastle works.

George Stephenson, the Father of Railways

From this time on, railroad building spread rapidly throughout Britain, Europe, and North America, and George Stephenson continued as the chief guide of the revolutionary transportation medium, solving problems of roadway construction, bridge design, and locomotive and rolling-stock manufacture. He built many other railways in the Midlands, and he acted as consultant on many railroad projects at home and abroad.

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