Stephenson demonstrates 1st Steam Engine
George Stephenson ’s story is inspirational: born into poverty he showed a natural ability with mechanisms of all sorts early in life, and a desire to experiment and improve. He only became literate in adulthood, paying for night-school classes. When he learned of James Watt ’s work on steam engines he walked to Scotland to work in a mine using one.
Stephenson’s first locomotive was not a world first, but it did set the standard, solving various problems with great ingenuity. He was not, however, working alone: John Thorswall, a blacksmith from Wylam Colliery did much of the fabrication; and Nicholas Wood, a colleague of Stephenson’s from Killingworth Colliery, designed the valve gear on the engine, actuated with eccentrics driven from the axles.
It took Stephenson and his friends 10 months to put together the locomotive Blucher (named for the Prussian general who the following year was to prove so vital to Wellington ’s success at Waterloo ). The machine relied on wheel-to-rail traction, a first, and was the first to have the flanged wheels we now expect all trains to employ.
On July 25 1814 Blucher hauled 30 tons of coal wagons along a slightly inclined track some 450 feet in length at Killingworth Colliery, managing a speed of close to 4mph. The trial convinced the colliery’s management to support further development work. Stephenson would go on to open the Stockton-Darlington Railway in 1825, and develop the Rocket, winner of the 1829 Rainhill trials (at which his friend Nicholas Wood was a judge).
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