George Stephenson

From Academic Kids

For the British politician see George Stevenson
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George Stephenson.

George Stephenson (June 9, 1781August 12, 1848) was a British engineer who designed a famous and historically important steam-powered locomotive named Rocket, and is known as the Father of British Steam Railways. To the Victorians, he was a great example of diligent application and a thirst for improvement (in a phrase 'Self Help')

George Stephenson was born in Wylam, England, 9.3 miles (15 km) west of Newcastle upon Tyne. In 1748, a wagonway -- an arrangement similar to a railway, but with wooden tracks and designed to support horse-drawn carts -- had been built from the Wylam colliery to the River Tyne, running for several miles (several km). The young Stephenson grew up near it, and in 1802 gained employment as an engine-man at a coal mine. For the next ten years his knowledge of steam engines increased, until in 1812 he stopped operating them for a living, and started building them.

Stephenson designed his first locomotive in 1814, a travelling engine designed for hauling coal on a coal site. Named Blucher, it could haul 30 tons of coal in a load, and was the first successful flanged wheel adhesion locomotive (which is to say, it was the first locomotive to use flanged wheels to rest on the track, and that its traction depended only on the contact between the wheel and the track). Over the next five years, he built sixteen more engines.

His ingenuity also found other outlets; in 1815 he developed a miners' safety lamp , known as the 'Geordie lamp' to distinguish it from the Davy lamp invented by Sir Humphrey Davy at much the same time. (There was an unfortunate outbreak of controversy , rival presentations & testimonial dinners etc over priority of discovery)

As his success grew, Stephenson was hired to build an 8 mile (13 km) railway from Hetton to Sunderland. The finished result used a combination of gravity pulling the load down inclines and locomotives for level and upward stretches, and was the first ever railway to use no animal power at all.

In 1821, a project began to build the Stockton and Darlington Railway. Originally the plan was to use horses to draw coal carts over metal rails, but after company director Edward Pease met with Stephenson he agreed to change plans. Work began in 1822, and in September 1825, Stephenson completed the first locomotive for the new railway; named at first Active, it was soon renamed Locomotion. The Stockton and Darlington opened on 27 September 1825. Driven by Stephenson, Locomotion hauled an 80 ton load of coal and flour for nine miles (15 km) over two hours, reaching a speed of 24 miles per hour (39 km/h) over one stretch. The first purpose-built passenger car (dubbed Experiment) was also attached, and held a load of dignitaries for the opening journey. It was the first time passenger traffic had ever been run on a steam-driven locomotive railway.

While building the S&D railway, Stephenson had noticed that even small inclines greatly reduced the speed of his locomotives. One might add that even slight declines would have made the primitive brakes next to useless. He came to the conclusion that railways should be kept as level as possible. He used this knowledge while working on the Bolton and Leigh Railway and the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, executing a series of difficult cuts, embankments, and stone viaducts to smooth the route the railways took. Defective surveying for the original route of the LMR (caused by hostility of some of the affected landowners) meant that Stephenson was given a very bad time during Parliamentary scrutiny of the original Bill, which was rejected. A revised bill with a new alignment was however submitted and passed in a subsequent session. The revised alignment gave a considerable problem; the crossing of Chat Moss , an apparently bottomless peat bog, which Stephenson eventually overcame by unusual means.

As the Liverpool & Manchester approached completion in 1829, the directors of that company arranged for a competition to decide who would build the locomotives for the new railway. The Rainhill Trials were run in October of that year. Stephenson's entry was Rocket, and its impressive performance in winning the contest made it arguably the most famous machine in the world.

When the L&MR opened on 15 September 1830, the opening ceremony was a considerable event, drawing luminaries from the government and industry, including the then Prime Minister the Duke of Wellington. The day was marred by the death of William Huskisson (Member of Parliament for Liverpool) who was struck and killed by Rocket, but the railway was a resounding success. Stephenson became a very famous man, and was offered the position of chief engineer for a wide variety of other railways.

However, his conservative views on the capabilities of locomotives meant that he tended to favour routes and civil engineering which were more costly than his successors thought necessary. For example, rather than the West Coast Main Line taking the direct route over Shap favoured by Joseph Locke between Lancaster and Carlisle, Stephenson reported in favour of a longer sea-level route via Ulverston and Whitehaven. Locke's route was prefered

Stephenson therefore tended to become a reassuring name, rather than a cutting-edge technical adviser. He settled into semi-retirement supervising his mining interests in Derbyshire. (Tunnelling work for the North Midland Railway had revealed unworked coal seams, and Stephenson had put much of his money into their exploitation.) Rich and successful for the remainder of his career, George Stephenson passed away on 12 August 1848 in Chesterfield, England. The local museum has a room full of Stephenson memorabilia , including the straight thick glass tubes in which Stephenson (inventive to the last) grew his cucumbers to stop them curving.

Stephenson's son, Robert Stephenson, was also a noted locomotive engineer, and was heavily involved in the creation of many of his father's engines from Locomotion onwards. Joseph Locke was initially apprenticed to George Stephenson, eventually being promoted to chief engineer on some of the schemes he instigated (e.g. the Grand Junction Railway).

Stephenson gives his name to George Stephenson College, founded in 2001 on the University of Durham's Queen's Campus in Stockton-on-Tees. Also named for him and his son is the Stephenson Railway Museum in North Shields.

See also

cy:George Stephenson de:George Stephenson es:George Stephenson fr:George Stephenson nl:George Stephenson pl:George Stephenson pt:George Stephenson


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