xxxxxThe Cornish inventor Richard Trevithick produced the first steam train to run on rails in 1804 (G3c) but, facing problems over the quality of the track, went to work in Peru. When he returned in 1827 the locomotive had been much improved, and a railway line had already been opened. The pioneer in this development was the Englishman George Stephenson, assisted by his son Robert. Having devised a method to increase the draught through the fire, he produced the locomotive Active (also called Locomotion) in 1825, and later that year the world’s first passenger train service was opened between Stockton and Darlington. It carried 450 passengers at a speed of 15 miles per hour. Following this success he directed the work on a more ambitious project, a 40-mile line between Liverpool and Manchester. When this was opened five years later, the train used was his famous engine the Rocket. These lines opened up the Age of the Train, and for the rest of his life Stephenson was engaged in the building of locomotives and the making of railroads, including the provision of bridges and tunnels. He did most of his work in northern England, but his advice was also sought on projects overseas.


(G3a, G3b, G3c, G4, W4, Va)


Stephenson: detail, by the English portrait painter Henry William Pickersgill (1782-1875), c1845 – National Portrait Gallery, London. Rocket: artist unknown, contained in The Life of George Stephenson, Railway Engineer by the Scottish writer Samuel Smiles (1812-1904), published London, 1859. Robert: detail, by the English artist John Lucas (1807-1874) – National Portrait Gallery, London. Novelty: date and artist unknown, contained in The Mechanics Magazine of 1829. Ericsson: detail, by the Swedish/American artist Avid Frederick Nyholm (1866-1927) – Smithsonian Institution, Washington. Railway: date and artist unknown. Foundry: date and artist unknown.

xxxxxAs we have seen, it was in 1804 (G3c) that the Cornish inventor Richard Trevithick, improving upon James Watt’s somewhat cumbersome engine, produced the first steam train to run on rails. It carried ten tons of iron ore and 70 passengers a distance of nine miles. Four years later he took an improved version to London. Named “Catch-me-who-can”, it gave novelty rides on a circular track near Euston Road. But Trevithick ran into money difficulties and, finding that the cast-iron rails were too weak for the weight of his engines, he abandoned the whole project and took himself off to Peru. He failed to make a fortune there, however, and by the time he returned to England in 1827 steam power was well and truly on track. Among the pioneers who developed the steam locomotive further were two colliery officials in the north of England, John Blenkinsop and William Hedley, but it was a young man named George Stephenson who had emerged as the genius of this new technology.

xxxxxStephenson was born in Wylam, near Newcastle-upon-Tyne. The son of a coalmine mechanic, he received no formal education, but being ambitious and determined, he taught himself to read and write in his spare time, and attended night school. From an early age he showed a keen interest in locomotives. He obtained work as a fireman at a coalmine near Newcastle, and by the age of 19 he was servicing and operating a Newcomen engine. Having ideas of his own about engine construction, this job enabled him to put theory into practice. On the strength of his experiments he was appointed chief mechanic at Killingworth colliery in 1812, charged with the task of getting coal from the pit-heads to the River Wear, a distance of eight miles. This gave him the opportunity to design his own locomotive.

xxxxxIn 1813 he visited John Blenkinsop, a mine inspector at Hunslet, Leeds, Yorkshire. As noted earlier, by that year Blenkinsop had invented a “steam boiler on wheels” - to haul coal from Middleton to Leeds using an inventive but rather unreliable tooth-rack rail system to assist traction. In 1812 it had travelled l.5 miles in 23 minutes “without the slightest accident”. Stephenson was convinced that he could do better, and the following year he produced the Blucher, an engine capable of pulling eight loaded wagons - some 30 tons - at four miles an hour. Not content with this, he then came up with an improvement which was to give the steam locomotive an assured future. He increased the draught through the fire - thus bolstering power - by using a blast pipe to redirect exhaust steam, together with air, into the chimney. Using this method he designed several more locomotives, progressively improving speed and performance.

xxxxxIt was on the strength of such progress that in 1821 he went to see the promoter of a proposed scheme to build a railroad from Stockton to Darlington. He intended to employ draft horses to pull the coal wagons along the 26-mile track, but Stephenson persuaded him to use steam power and to provide a public as well as a freight service. Two years later, together with his son Robert, he established his own factory at Newcastle and began work on building the line’s first locomotive, the Active (later renamed Locomotion). Thus it was that in September 1825 the first public passenger train ran from Darlington to Stockton, carrying no less than 450 passengers at a speed of 15 miles per hour. Stephenson set the gauge at 4ft 8 ins (1.4 metres) and, as railroads developed across the world, this became the standard gauge for most railways.

xxxxxNot surprisingly, in 1826 he was appointed engineer of another, more ambitious scheme, the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. A competition was held to find the most efficient locomotive for this new line and it was then that Stephenson, assisted by his son, came up with his famous Rocket (illustrated), an engine which, using his special feature - the multi-tube boiler and blast pipe - reached an average speed of over 12 miles per hour. At Rainhill, near Liverpool in 1829 he won the competition plus an order for eight such locomotives. The new line, linking the two cities and some 40 miles in length, was opened in September the following year by the prime minister, the Duke of Wellington. It was the first ever fully timetabled railway service, carrying both passengers and freight.

xxxxxThe Stockton and Darlington Railway of 1825 had greatly heightened interest in the potential of the steam locomotive as a fast and economical means of transport. The Liverpool-Manchester line of 1830 opened up the Age of the Railway. Over the next ninety years or so railways were developed in countries across the world, facilitating the rapid movement of people and opening up trade and markets around the globe. It provided the last corner piece, it might be said, in the jigsaw that began to take shape with the coming of the Industrial Revolution.

xxxxxThe building of new and better locomotives and the track upon which they ran - massive industries in themselves - was accompanied by a colossal programme of bridge building - not to mention tunnels. Over sixty bridges and a two mile cutting through solid rock were constructed on the Liverpool-Manchester line alone. Stephenson, now regarded as the father of steam locomotion, became a consultant for a number of railway companies in the Midlands and northern England, responsible for the manufacture of engines and rolling stock, the building of the railroad, and the design and construction of bridges. And his advice was also sought on projects overseas.


xxxxxInxmuch of his work Stephenson was assisted by his only son Robert Stephenson (1803-1859). Educated at Edinburgh University, he did much of the survey work in connection with his father’s construction of both the Stockton and Darlington Railway of 1825, and the Liverpool-Manchester line of 1830. He then went to Colombia, working as a mining engineer, and on his return, was made chief engineer of the London Birmingham Railway in 1833, a prestigious appointment. In this and later projects he gained a reputation for the quality of his iron bridges, using a tubular design of his own making. A number of these tubular girder railway bridges were built in England - including the Britannia Bridge over the Menai Strait in North Wales - as well as in Canada and on the continent. During his distinguished career he also put his mind to locomotive design, and made numerous improvements.

xxxxxIncidentally, when the first engine ran on the Darlington to Stockton line it was preceded for a short while by a man on horseback carrying a flag which read Periculum privatum utilitas publica (The private danger in the public good). Such a warning proved timely. When the Manchester-Liverpool railway was opened five years later, the MP for Liverpool, William Huskisson (1770-1830), got out of his carriage and was struck down by the Rocket. He died of his injuries later that day. ……

xxxxx…… The public interest in the development of the steam engine was immense. In 1829 well over 10,000 people attended the competition held at Rainhill, near Liverpool, to find the most efficient locomotive. And when the Manchester-Liverpool Railway was officially opened the following year it is estimated that there were 60,000 spectators. ……

xxxxx…… Inx1829 the Swedish-born American engineer John Ericsson (illustrated), together with the English engineer John Braithwaite (1797-1870) built a locomotive called The Novelty, and this took part in the competition at Rainhill against Stephenson’s Rocket. Later, Ericsson produced a steam-powered warship with a revolving turret, named the Monitor, and, as we shall see, a number of these were used by the federal forces during the American Civil War which began in 1861 (Va). ……


xxxxx…… Thexfirst railroad in the United States was begun in 1828. This ran from Baltimore to Ohio, and was financed by the American patriot Charles Carroll (1737-1832) of Carrollton. Here, as in other countries, the introduction of the railways and train timetable had a marked effect upon a country’s time keeping. As trains became faster and the rail network expanded, the time kept throughout the country became more uniform. ……


xxxxx…… As noted earlier when studying the English chemist Humphry Davy, Stephenson also made a miner’s lamp in 1815. It proved safer in a draught, but, because of its intricate design, Davy’s model was generally chosen in preference. ……


The Industrial



xxxxxAs we have seen, in the continuing saga of the Industrial Revolution, Henry Cort’s puddling process in the making of iron, introduced in 1784 (G3b), together with Edmund Cartwright’s wool combing machine and Eli Whitney’s cotton gin, gave fresh impetus to their respective industries. At the same time an improved network of roads and canals, the achievement of men like James Brindley, Thomas Telford and John McAdam, meant that goods and raw materials could be more easily moved about the country. In the 1820s this transport system received an enormous boost with the beginning of the railways, due in large measure to the engineering genius George Stephenson, improving on the work of James Watt and Richard Trevithick. And the building of the locomotives and the rail road itself were made possible by the continuing advances in the iron industry. The Scottish engineers James Neilson and James Nasmyth, for example, invented the hot air blast and the steam hammer respectively, and, as we shall see, in 1856 (Va) the Bessemer process mass produced steel more efficiently and cheaply. In the meantime, however, the mass migration of people from country to towns caused many social problems, and a cry for political reform. The next decade was to see the Reform Act of 1832, the Poor Law of 1834 and a struggle for workers’ rights, exemplified by the Tolpuddle Martyrs of 1834 and the Chartist movement of 1838. By this time the Industrial Revolution was spreading over Europe and the United States, and was to reach Japan soon after the turn of the century.

xxxxxAs we have seen, following a series of mechanical inventions, made to increase the production of cotton and wool, the Industrial Revolution began in earnest in 1771 (G3a) when Richard Arkwright opened the first factory worked by water power. Just over ten years later the Scottish engineer James Watt invented his rotary engine, and factories began to move to coalfields for their new source of power. Then came Henry Cort’s puddling process in the making of iron in 1784 (G3b), followed by Edmund Cartwright’s wool combing machine, and Eli Whitney’s cotton gin, each giving fresh impetus to their respective industries. At the same time, the need arose for an improved network of roads, and the extension of the canal system. Two Scottish engineers, Thomas Telford and John McAdam, played a major part in extending and improving the roads, whilst new canals were dug to move the heavy raw materials about the country, the leaders here being James Brindley and Telford again.

xxxxxBut these relentless moves towards industrialisation came at a cost. In England, for example, workers who lost their jobs as a result, were prepared to smash the machinery which deprived them of their livelihood. The Luddites, as some were called, took up arms in 1811, and waged a losing battle over the next five years. And those who moved to seek work in the factories found themselves living in squalid, overcrowded conditions, and exploited by a management bent only on the making of profit. The north of England, as William Blake would have it, was full of “dark, satanic mills”. There were men like the mill owner Robert Owen who set up schemes to benefit their workers and refused to employ child labour, but they were few and far between. The direct result, as we shall see, was the Poor Law of 1834, an overdue attempt to give some assistance to society’s most deprived people.

xxxxxFurthermore, unfamiliar working conditions in the factory system brought about a new relationship between the employer and his employees, now beginning to form associations or unions of like workers to make their voices heard. Attempts to form such a union led to the famous case of the Tolpuddle Martyrs in 1834 (W4), a test case of sorts in the struggle for workers’ rights. In the meantime the mass movement of people from countryside to town made a mockery of Parliamentary representation. Demands for a thorough overhaul of the distribution of constituencies, and the laws governing the right to vote, led to the Reform Act of 1832 (W4), a series of measures which abolished pocket and rotten boroughs and went some way to meeting these demands. The struggle was continued in 1838 (Va) with the founding of Chartism, a working-class movement demanding further parliamentary reform in the development towards a more egalitarian society.

xxxxxIncidentally, the extent to which parliamentary representation in England had become out of date by the early 1830s can be gauged by the fact that the industrial centres of Birmingham and Manchester had no representation whilst the rural county of Cornwall had 44 members! ……

xxxxx…… And not all were taken by the march of progress. The Duke of Wellington considered that the Rocket - a new iron horse - was “the vulgarest, most indelicate, most inconvenient and most injurious to health” of any mode of transport he had seen in any part of the world!

xxxxxIn the 1820s the movement of people and the transport of goods, raw and finished, received an enormous boost with the beginning of the railways. As we have seen, this was due in large measure to the engineering genius George Stephenson, who improved upon the work of James Watt and Richard Trevithick. Andxworthy of mention in this connection was the work of the Welsh inventor Richard Roberts (1789-1864). Apart from a number of useful innovations - such as a machine for planing metal and a screw cutting lathe - he made important improvements to the design of steam locomotives and carriages. These advances, together with the development of railroads, provided some of the final pieces in the complicated jigsaw that made up the Industrial Revolution.

xxxxxAnd this development was made possible by continuing advances in the iron industry. Inx1828, for example, the Scottish engineer James Beaumont Neilson (1792-1865) introduced the use of a hot air blast (as opposed to a cold one) for the smelting of iron ore - an innovation of immediate benefit -, and the engineer James Nasmyth, another Scotsman, later produced his steam hammer to work wrought iron and steel. And, as we shall see, the first method of mass producing steel was introduced by the Bessemer process in 1856 (Va), a revolutionary means by which production became faster and cheaper. And almost at the same time, the idea was conceived by William Kelly in the United States. By then the Industrial Revolution was well and truly under way in Europe and North America, and destined to spread to Japan by the beginning of the 20th century.