George Stephenson
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George Stephenson


George StephensonGEORGE STEPHENSON was the inventor of the locomotive which first applied sleam sliccessfully to transportation. His career was a steady series of successes from the humblest beginnings until his fame was established as the benefactor of England and of the world by his practical genius. George Stephenson was born at the village of Wylam, near Newcastle-on-Tyne, in Durham, England, on June 9, 1781. He was the second of a famity of six children. His father, Robert Stephenson, was a fireman of the old pumping engine at Wylam colliery. The family being very poor, George was first employed to tend the cows of a neighboring farmer to prevent their straying or trespassing. and for this he received two-pence a day. He next joined his elder brother James in working as a corf-bitter, or picker, in the colliery, where his daily carnings were six-pence and he was shortly set to drive the gin-horse, for which he received eight-pence. When he was fifteen years of age he worked at Water-row pit as brake-man on the wagon-way between Wylam and Newburn. he, therefore, became early expericnced in the working of wagons on railways. He often referred to this expcrience in later years, and recalled actual experiments made at that time. By dint of industry, sobriety and thrift, George Stephenson managed to save a small sum of money, and while working at Willington Quay as brakeman, he married Fanny Henderson on the 28th of November, 1802.


About 1805, Stephenson removed to Killingworth, the centre of the collieries worked by Lord Ravensworth and his partners. When he wellt to Killingworth it was still as a brakeman i but soou afterwards he got the charge of the steam-engine, all advancement which arose from his showing mechanical ingenuity in successfully repairing defects in the valve-gear of the engine, after several ineffectual attempts had been made to do so by Geordy Dod, who had a local fame as a mechanician. Stephenson had, before this, acquired some reputation among bis fellow-workmen as a repairer of clocks and watches. Between 1807 and 1815, Stephenson's attention was drawn to the subject of locomotive engines, many attempts having been made during that period to introduce them on the tramways and edge-railways of the Northumberland and Durham coal districts, with but very partial success. After various trials and modifications of his designs, George Stephenson started a locomotive on the Killingworth railway on the 6th of March, 1815, which embodied every essential part of a locomotive of the present day, with the exception of the tubular boiler and expansion gear.


It was, however, as all inventor of the miners' safety lamp that Stephenson's pre-eminent merit was first recognized. It is used to this day, and is called the "Geordy Lamp" as contradistinguished from the "Davy." As an independent inventor of the Geordy," depending on the same principles as that of Sir Humphry Davy's lamp, Stephenson was presented by a number of the leading coal owners with £1,000 and a silver tankard. The presentation took place at a public dinner given in the assembly-rooms at New castle, in the month of January, 1818. On that occasion, the chairman, Charles John Brandling. said: "A great deal of controversy, and he was sorry to say of animosity, had prevailed upon the subject of the safety lamp; but this he trusted, after the example of moderation that had been set by Mr. Stephenson's friends, would subside, and all personalities cease to be remembered. As to the claim of that individual to testify their gratitude to whom they were that day assembled, he thought every doubt must have been removed in the minds of lmprejudiced persons by a perusal of the evideuce recently laid before the public." Stephenson, in acknowledging the gift, gave the following pledge, which was nobly redeemed duriug the subsequent part of his valuable life: "I shall ever reflect with pride and gratitude that my labors have been honored with the approbation of such a distinguished meeting; and you may rest assured that my time and any talent  possess shall hereafter be employed in such manner as not to give you,
gentlemen, any cause to regret the countenance and support vou have so generously afforded me.


The first locomotive railway, for the purposes of traveling according to the present principle of traction, was constructed between Stockton and Darlington. George Stephenson was the engineer the safety lamp testimonial had enabled him, in partnership with certain capitalists and his only son, Robert, to establish what afterwards became his renowned engine factory in Newcastle. On the opening of the Darlington railway, in 1825, Stephenson's engines traveled at the rate of ten mites an hour but his ideas and anticipations of the capabilities of this mode of transit, both as to speed and the effect it would produce when generally adopted, were such as he did not then even dare to express for fear of being pronounced insane. The directors of the Liverpool and :Manchester Railway offered a prize of £500 for the best locomotive engine which, on a certain day, should be produced all the railway, and perform certain conditions in the most satisfactory manner. Five finns entered for the great competition. The trial was ultimately appointed to take place on the 6th of October, 1829. George Stephenson's engine, "The Rocket," won the prize it started on its journey drawing about thirteen tons' weight in cars or wagons, and covered the run of thirty-five miles, including stoppage, in an hour and forty-eight minutes. The highest velocity attained by the" Rocket " during the trial trip was twenty-nine miles an hour, or about three times the speed that one of the judges of the competition had declared to be the limit of possibility.


With the engineering of the Liverpool and Manchester railway, Stephenson entered upon the field of his great fame and from 1825 to 1847 he occupied the foremost position of all railway engineers. He amassed great wealth, partly from his profession; but he was an extensive coal proprietor. Coal bad before his time been uniformly carried from the Tyne to London by sea, and was familiarly called sea-coal. Stephenson, mainly on his own account, established the inland coal trade by rail to the metropolis. His health, comparatively enfeebled by an attack of pleurisy, could not resist the noxious atmosphere of his green-houses, where he spent mueh time in superintending the culture of his exotics. To this cause was attributed the attack of intermittent fever, which carried him off on the 12th of August, 1848, in the sixty-seventh year of his age. He was buried in Trinity Church, Chesterfield. Ralph Waldo Emerson, who met him when in England in 1847, observed that he had the lives of many men in him.


George Stephenson was a man of iron frame of body and mind, of plain manners, ardent temperament, eminently social habits; too confident of his powers and too sure of his position to be ambitious. Sir Robert Peel made him the offer of knighthood more than once; but Stephenson preferred his sturdy independence to the precarious privileges of the titled class. He unflinchingly pursued his own ends, and seldom failed in accomplishing his objects.




When the project of connecting Liverpool and Manchester by a double line of railway was undertaken, it was not decided what moving power it might be most expedient to adopt as a means of transport on the proposed road: the choice lay between horse power, fixed steam engines, and locomotive engines; but the first, for many obvious reasons, was at once rejected in favor of one or other of the last two.


The steam engine may be applied, by two distinct methods, to move wagons either on a turnpike road or on a railway. By the one method the steam engine is fixed, and draws the train of carriages toward it by a chain extending the whole length of the road all which the engine works. By this method the line of road over which the transport is conducted is divided into a number of short intervals, at the extremity of each of which an engine is placed. The wagous or carriages, when drawn by an engine to its own station, are dctn.chcd, and connected with the extremity of the chain worked by the next stationary engine and thns the journey is performed, from station to station, by separate engines. By the other method, the same engine draws the load the whole journey, traveling with it.


The Directors of the Liverpool and Manchester Railroad, when the work was advanced towards its completion, employed in the spring of the year 1829 Messrs. Stephenson and Lock and Messrs. Walker and Rastrick, experienced engineers, to visit the different railways where practical information respecting the comparative effeets of stationary and locomotive engines was likely to be obtained; and from these gentlemen they received reports all the relative merits, according to their judgment, of the two methods. The result of the comparison of the two systems was, that the capital necessary to he advanced to establish a line of stationary engines was double that which was necessary to establish an equivalent power in locomotive engines that the annual expense by the stationary engines was likewise greater and that, consequently, the expense of transport by the latter was greater, in a like proportion.


On the score of economy, therefore, the system of locomotive engines was entitled to a preference but there were other considerations which conspired with this to decide the choice of the Directors in its favor. An accident occurring' in any part of a road worked by stationary engines must necessarily produce a total suspension of work along the entire line. The most vigilant and active attcention all the part of every workman, howevcr employed, in every part of the line, would therefore be necessary hut, independently of this, accidents arising from the fracture or derangement of any of the chains, or from the sllspension of the working of allY of the fixed engines, would be equally injnrions, ancl would effectually stop the intercourse along the line. On the other hand, in locomotive engines an accident could only affect the particular train of carriages drawn by the engine to which the accident might occur and even then the difficulty could be remedied by having a supply of spare engines at convenient stations along the line.


The decision of the Directors was, therefore, in favor of locomotive engines and their next measure was to devise some means by which the inventive genius of the country might be stimulated to supply them with the best possible form of engines for this purpose. With this view it was pnr posed and carried into effect to offer a prize for the best locomotive engine, which might be produced under certain proposed conditions, and to appoint a time for a public trial of the claims of the candidates. A premium of £500 was accordingly offered for the best locomotive engine to run on the Liverpool and Manchester Railway; under the condition that it should produce no smoke that the pressure of the steam should be limited to 50 Ibs. on the inch and that it should draw at least three times its own weight, at the rate of not less than ten times an hour that the engine should be supported on springs, and should not exceed fifteen feet in height. Precautions were also proposed against the consequences of the boiler bursting. This proposal was announced in the spring of 1829, and the time of trial was appointed in the following October.


The engines which finally underwent the public t rial were the Rocket, constructed by Mr. Stephenson the Sanspareil, by Hackworth and the Novelty, by Messrs. Braithwait and Ericson. A line of railway was selected for the trial, all a level piece of road about two miles in length, near a place called Rainhill, between Liverpool and Manchester; the distance between the two stations was a mile and a half, and the engine had to trnvc1 this distance backward and forward ten times, which made altogether a journey of 30 miles. The Rocket performed this journey twice : the first time in 2 hours 14 minutes and 8 seconds and the second time in 2 hours 6 minutes and 49 seconds. Its speed at different parts of the journey varied: its greatest rate of motion was rather above 29 miles an hour; and its least, about miles an hour. The average rate of tile one journey was I3.4miles an hour  and of the other, 14.1 miles. This was the only engine which performed the complete journey proposed, the others having been stopped from accidents which occurred to them in the experiment. The Sanspareil performed the distance between the stations eight times, traveling 22 miles in 1 hour, 37 minutes and 16 seconds. The greatest velocity to which this engine attained was something less than 23 miles per hour. The Novelty had only passed twice between the stations when the joints of the boiler gave way, and put an end to the experimenlt The Rocket obtained the premium.


The great object to be attained in the construction of these engines was, to combine with sufficient lightness the greatest possible heating power. The fire necessarily acts on the water in two ways: first, by its radiant heat; and second, by the current of heated air which is carried by the draft through the fire, and finally passes into the chimny. To accomplish this object, thcrefore, it is necessary to expose to both these sources of heat the greatest possible quantity of surface in coil tact with the water. These ends were attained by the following arrangement in the Rocket. The engine is supported on four wheels; the principal part of the weight being thrown on one pair, which are worked by the engine. The boiler consists of a cylinder six feet in length, with flat ends the chimney issues from one end, and to the other end is attached a square box, the bottom of which is furnished with the grate on which the fuel is placed. This box is composed of two casings of iron, one contained within the other, having between them a space about 3 inches in breadth; the magnitude of the box being 3 feet in length, 2 feet in width, and 3 feet in depth. The casing which surrounds the box communicates with the lower part of the boiler by a pipe; and the same casing at the top of the box communicates with the upper part of the boiler by another pipe. When water is admitted into the boiler, therefore, it .Bows freely through the pipe into the casing which surrounds the furnace or fire-box, and fills this casing to the same level as that which it has in the boiler. When the engine is at work, the boiler is kept about half filled with water; and, consequently, the casing surrounding the furnace is completely filled. The stcam which is generated in the water contained in the casing finds its exit through a pipe, and escapes into the upper part of the boiler. Through the lower part of the boiler pass a Humber of copper tubes of small size, which communicate at one and with the fire-box, and at the other with the chimney, and forllt a passage for the heated air from the furnace to the chimney. The ignited fuel spread on the grate at the bott01l1 of the fire-box disperses its heat by radiation, and acts in this manner on the whole surface of the casing surrounding the fire-box; and thus raises the temperature of the thin shell of water contained in that casing. 'rile chief part of the water in the casing, being lower in its position than the water in the boiler, acquires a tendency to ascend when heated, and passes into the boiler i so that a constant circulation of the heated water is maintained, and the water in the boiler must necess..1.rily be kept at uearly the sallie temperature as the water ill the casing. 'rhere are two cylinders, oue of which works each wheel. 'fhe spokes which these cylinders work are placed at right angles on the wheels the wheels being fixed all a common axle, with which they turn.


In this engine, the surface of water surrounding the fire box, exposed to the action of radiant heat, amounted to 20 square feet, which received heat from the surface of 6 square feet of burning fuel on the bars. The surface exposed to the action of the heated air amounted to 118 square feet. The engine drew after it another carriage, containing fuel and water; the fuel used was coke, for the purpose of avoiding the production of smoke.-D. LARDNER.


George Stephenson