Trevithick's Loco
The first successful loco for road


Who invented the Steam Locomotive Engine for Railways ?
Evolution of Steam Locomotive is probably closely associated with extraction of coal and its transport to the users from pithead. George Stephenson invented the earliest steam locomotive some time between 1804 and 1821.

RICHARD TREVITHICK (1771-1833). A Cornish Mine Manager's son. He earlier in 1801 invented the road-locomotive, putting upon the highways on Christmas Eve 1801, the first steam propelled vehicle for passengers. This invention was not for the railway but for the highway.

Puffing Devil

Richard Trevithick, was born in Illogan, Cornwall, in 1771.In 1796 Trevithick  began experimenting with the idea of producing a steam locomotive, and produced one . The boiler and engine were in one piece; hot water was put into the boiler and a red-hot iron was inserted into a tube underneath; thus causing steam to be raised and the engine set in motion. In 1801 he produced another bigger locomotive named the ' Puffing Devil' , which consisted of a cylindrical horizontal boiler and a single horizontal cylinder let into it. The piston, propelled back and forth in the cylinder by pressure of steam, was linked by piston rod and connecting rod to a crankshaft bearing a large flywheel, it could only go on short journeys as he was unable to find a way of keeping up the steam for any length of time.

In 1803, a man named Samuel Homfray decided to fund the development of a steam-powered vehicle to replace the horse-drawn carts on the tramways. Richard Trevithick built that vehicle, the first steam engine tramway locomotive. On February 22, 1804, the locomotivee, with its single vertical cylinder, 8 foot flywheel and long piston-rod, managed to haul a load of 10 tons of iron, 70 men and five extra wagons a distance of 9 miles between the ironworks at Pen-y-Darron in the town of Merthyr Tydfil, Wales to the bottom of the valley called Abercynnon. It took about two hours. During the nine mile journey the locomotive reached speeds of nearly five miles an hour. Trevithick's locomotive only made three journeys. Each time the seven-ton steam engine broke the cast iron rails. and was abandoned.

In 1821, an Englishman, Julius Griffiths was the first person to patent a passenger road locomotive.
     Unabated by repeated failures and criticism Trevethick continued his experiments. Trevithick developed a new locomotive he called Catch Me Who Can. In the summer of 1808 Trevithick erected a circular railway in Euston Square and during the months of July and August people could ride on his locomotive on the payment of one shilling. Trevithick had plenty of volunteers for his locomotive that reached speeds of 12 mph (19 kph) but once again the rails broke and he was forced to bring the experiment to an end.

Catch me who can
Catch Me Who Can

Circular Railway - 1808
Circular rail Circus

(1781-1848) was born at Wylam, near New Castle, and up to 1804 was mainly engaged in ordinary Colliery occupation. It is amazing to know that he learnt to read and write at the age of 18 to get a decent job and learn the intricacies of steam engines. In 1804, however , an engagement as Brakesman at Killingworth Colliery brought him in touch with the working of Watt's Steam Engine, and his first efforts in invention were in improving one of those engines, showing so much ability that he was offered an Engine Wright's position at Killingham, which he held for some time. Then it was that he began to think seriously of producing a locomotive engine, and managed to construct an engine that would draw coal trucks at the rate of 4 miles an hour. In 1821, when the Stockton and Darlington Railway was undertaken he was appointed Engineer and when the Railway was opened it was opened  as a
line for the transport of coal only,

     Stephenson on September 27, 1825, won his first great triumph by putting a locomotive on the line that was able to draw 38 wagons ( not coaches), laden with goods and 600 passengers at a rate of 12 miles an hour, with Stephenson at the controls, thus inaugurating the first public steam railway of the world.  It is interesting to note that the 600 passengers were made to ride on wagons.

      There was also another landmark. Till then whatever passenger traffic was there were moved on same freight wagons meant for haulage of goods and basically the railroads were for freight traffic. On this trial run for the first time in the history of the world a passenger coach was attached. This was an elegant horse drawn coach body placed on railway wheels and even provided with its own wooden hand brakes. The coach was called "The Experiment" and used to carry the directors of the firm and the " Steam Age " virtually began.

Stephenson's company logo

George and Robert Stephenson with family

The Rocket

Stephension's Locomotion No.1 on its first journey on 27th. September, 1825



       After this incident George Stephenson's fame as a railway engineer sky-rocketed and he was very much in demand all over the world as a consultant and engineer. Subsequently in 1929 , George assisted by his son Robert, was engaged in construction of  the Liverpool and Manchester railway line, which was meant for hauling wagons by a cable , wound by stationary steam engine. Stephenson  tried his best to convince the company to use steam locomotives . But at last the company consented to conduct a " trial" at Rainhill and on 25th. of April 1929 an advertisement  appeared to offer a prize money of 500 pounds sterling over and above the cost of the engine for the most improved locomotive during a trial..  It would be interesting to know the " terms and conditions " of the trial.

1. The engine was to be delivered within tight delivery period of little over 5 months.

2. The maximum engine weight was stipulated as 6 tons.

3. The engine should be able to haul a trailing load of 20 tons at 10 miles per hour on level section. with boiled pressure of 20lbs. per Sq. inch

4. The basic price of the engine should not exceed 550 sterling pounds. 

      It is also interesting to note that since this trial was to be conducted on a level section and  since the longest perfectly level section was only 1.5 miles at Rainhill, each contestant was required to travel backward and forward ten times , making a total journey of 30 miles. 
      Five locomotives were delivered for the trial but later two were withdrawn. The trial took place on 6th. October 1829. Three locomotives " The Novelty", The Sans Pereil" and "The Rocket" participated. The Novelty after performing two runs broke down. although she achieved a speed of 30 m.p.h. Sans Periel made eight runs before the water pump failed. ( At a later stage the pump was replaced by " Water Injectors" in modern Steam Locomotives). Stephenson's       "The Rocket" emerged as undisputed winner making complete 30 miles journey not once but twice clocking 2 hrs. 45 mins. for the 1st. round trip and 2 hrs. 7 mins. for the second.
after this the Railway age  commenced. 
     However the first Steam Locomotive in its   completed form was put in service in 1829 and was christened as ROCKET, which won in the celebrated "Rainhill Trails" on April 25, 1829.


Stephension's Locomotion No.1 on its first journey on 27th. September, 1825

Locomotion No. 1

The Liverpool - Manchester line was completed and a colourful inauguration ceremony was organised  on 15th. September 1830. It is unfortunate that this inauguration ceremony was marred by a tragedy. when one of the invited V.I.Ps William Huskisam M.P. and a former cabinet minister was fatally run over by " The Rocket". Obviously the train did not have effective brakes. This can be termed as the first train accident in the history of Railways.
Stephenson named his  first steam engine  "LOCOMOTION No.1" and perhaps this led to the later Steam Engines to called "Locomotives".


      People every where in the world have been prejudiced to oppose any new invention. In case of railways also there was enormous prejudice, opposition and criticism.

1. Queen Victoria after 17 years of opening of the first railway in the world, was advised by her council of ministers that it was "safe" for Her Majesty to take a trip from London to Slough on 13th. June 1842. But "The Atlas" , a popular paper expressed concern over the "fearful tremendous evil " excursion of the Queen and prayed either it should be wholly abandoned or only occasionally resorted to".

2. In 1835 John Bull denounced the railways as a menace.

3. In India many people at the beginning also opposed stating " hazardous and dangerous venture." Many British in India considered " premature and expensive undertaking". They feared even if it could be started it will not be able to attract people from Bullock Carts and the people were so poor that they cannot be persuaded to spend money on railway travel. The great Indian economist Romesh Chandra Dutt considered railways as wasteful expenditure and at best deserve the secondary priority to roads and canals. Even Lord Lawrence the Governor-General considered "water ways will be more important for the country than railways.

4. I'm astonished when we see in the recent past during the introduction of Metro Railways in Calcutta , a renowned politician  advised people not to board the Metro because there is every possibility of the tunnel breaking over our head.



The author of the page acknowledges help from old Eastern Railway Magazines IR magazines and from steam loco web pages and a lot many books and articles on the subject. Interested to read more such stories and know more on this subject steam engines?   Must visit

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