George Stephenson

Is your surname Stephenson?

Research the Stephenson family

Share your family tree and photos with the people you know and love

  • Build your family tree online
  • Share photos and videos
  • Smart Matching™ technology
  • Free!

George Stephenson

Birthplace: Wylam, Northumberland, England, United Kingdom
Death: August 12, 1848 (67)
Tapton House, Chesterfield, Derbyshire
Place of Burial: Trinity Church, Chesterfield, Derbyshire
Immediate Family:

Son of Robert Stephenson and Mabel Stephenson
Husband of Frances Stephenson; Elizabeth Stephenson and Ellen Stephenson
Father of Frances Stephenson and Robert "Rocket" Stephenson
Brother of John Stephenson; James Stephenson; Eleanor Liddell; Ann Nixon; Robert Stephenson, Sr. and 1 other

Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About George Stephenson

John worked in the mines and kept in close contact with George. When George was having troubles on the construction of the Stockton and Darlington Railway he hired John and his brother James as gang leaders.

After this was finished they both went to work in the Newcastle engine works, but then tragedy struck. John was ‘killed by a fall of the shear legs’ in January 1831, and a similar fate befell James. George was very upset by all this, and made himself responsible for the upbringing of the families. Eleanor had only one daughter, but Hannah was left with four children aged between nine and two years old, and another on the way. George Stephenson asked them to live with him. Mildred Rose (‘Nunny’) said “You see, when my great-grandfather died, Uncle George Stephenson took great-grandmother, who was his niece, to live with him. My father remembers some quaint stories his mother handed down to him”. It was only a few months after this that George bought a large mansion near Ashby-de-la-Zouch probably for his new extended family.

George Stephenson

From Wikipedia

(9 June 1781 – 12 August 1848) was an English civil engineer and mechanical engineer who built the first public railway line in the world to use steam locomotives. Renowned as the "Father of Railways", the Victorians considered him a great example of diligent application and thirst for improvement, with self-help advocate Samuel Smiles particularly praising his achievements. His rail gauge of 4 feet 8+1⁄2 inches (1,435 mm), sometimes called "Stephenson gauge", is the world's standard gauge.

Early life

George StephensonGeorge Stephenson was born in Wylam, Northumberland, 9.3 miles (15.0 km) west of Newcastle upon Tyne. He was the second child of Robert and Mabel Stephenson,[1] neither of whom could read or write. Robert was the fireman for Wylam Colliery pumping engine, earning a very low wage, so there was no money for schooling. At 17, Stephenson became an engineman at Water Row Pit in Newburn. George realised the value of education and paid to study at night school to learn reading, writing and arithmetic — he was illiterate until the age of 18. In 1801 he began work at Black Callerton Colliery as a 'brakesman', controlling the winding gear at the pit. In 1802 he married Frances Henderson and moved to Willington Quay, east of Newcastle. There he worked as a brakesman while they lived in one room of a cottage. George made shoes and mended clocks to supplement his income.

Their son Robert was born in 1803, and in 1804 they moved to West Moor, near Killingworth where George worked as a brakesman at Killingworth Pit. His wife gave birth to a daughter, who died after a few weeks, and in 1806 Frances died of consumption (tuberculosis). George decided to find work in Scotland and left Robert with a local woman while he went to work in Montrose. After a few months he returned, probably because his father was blinded in a mining accident. He moved back into a cottage at West Moor and his unmarried sister Eleanor moved in to look after Robert. In 1811 the pumping engine at High Pit, Killingworth was not working properly and Stephenson offered to fix it. He did so with such success that he was promoted to enginewright for the collieries at Killingworth, responsible for maintaining and repairing all the colliery engines. He became an expert in steam-driven machinery.[2]

The miners' safety lamp

Stephenson's safety lamp shown with Davy's lamp on the leftIn 1815, aware of the explosions often caused in mines by naked flames, Stephenson began to experiment with a safety lamp that would burn without causing an explosion. At the same time, Cornishman Humphry Davy, the eminent scientist was also looking at the problem. Despite his lack of scientific knowledge, Stephenson, by trial and error, devised a lamp in which the air entered via tiny holes. Stephenson demonstrated the lamp to two witnesses by taking it down Killingworth Colliery and holding it in front of a fissure from which fire damp was issuing. This was a month before Davy presented his design to the Royal Society. The two designs differed, Davy's lamp was surrounded by a screen of gauze, whereas Stephenson's lamp was contained in a glass cylinder. For his invention Davy was awarded £2,000, whilst Stephenson was accused of stealing the idea from Davy. A local committee of enquiry exonerated Stephenson and proved he had been working separately and awarded him £1,000 but Davy and his supporters refused to accept it. They could not see how an uneducated man such as Stephenson could come up with the solution he had. In 1833 a House of Commons committee found that Stephenson had equal claim to having invented the safety lamp. Davy went to his grave believing that Stephenson had stolen his idea. The Stephenson lamp was used exclusively in the North East England, whereas the Davy lamp was used everywhere else. The experience gave Stephenson a lifelong distrust of London-based, theoretical, scientific experts.[2]

There is a theory that it was Stephenson who indirectly gave the name of Geordies to the people of the North East of England. By this theory, the name of the Geordie lamp attached to the North East pit men themselves. By 1866 any native of the North East could be called a Geordie.[3]

Early locomotives

Cornishman Richard Trevithick is credited with the first realistic design for a steam locomotive in 1802. Later, he visited Tyneside and built an engine there for a mine-owner. Several local men were inspired by this, and designed their own engines.

Locomotive constructed in 1816 by Stephenson for the Killingworth CollieryStephenson designed his first locomotive in 1814, a travelling engine designed for hauling coal on the Killingworth wagonway named Blücher after the Prussian general Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher. It was constructed in the colliery workshop behind Stephenson's home, Dial Cottage, on Great Lime Road. The locomotive could haul 30 tons of coal up a hill at 4 mph (6.4 km/h), and was the first successful flanged-wheel adhesion locomotive: its traction depended on contact between its flanged wheels and the rail. Altogether, Stephenson is said to have produced 16 locomotives at Killingworth,[2] although it has not proved possible to produce a convincing list of all 16. Of those identified, most were built for use at Killingworth or for the Hetton colliery railway. A six-wheeled locomotive was built for the Kilmarnock and Troon Railway in 1817 but was withdrawn from service because of damage to the cast iron rails.[4] Another locomotive was supplied to Scott's Pit railroad at Llansamlet, near Swansea in 1819 but it too was withdrawn, apparently because it was under-boilered and damage to the track.[5]

Rail with half-lap joint, patented by Stephenson 1816The new engines were too heavy to run on wooden rails, and iron rails were in their infancy, with cast iron exhibiting excessive brittleness. Together with William Losh, Stephenson improved the design of cast iron rails to reduce breakage; rails were briefly made by Losh, Wilson and Bell at their Walker ironworks. According to Rolt, Stephenson managed to solve the problem caused by the weight of the engine on the primitive rails. He experimented with a 'steam spring' (to 'cushion' the weight using steam pressure), but soon followed the practice of 'distributing' weight by utilising a number of wheels. For the Stockton and Darlington Railway Stephenson used wrought iron rails, not withstanding the financial loss he suffered by not using his own patented design.[6]

Stephenson was hired to build an 8-mile (13-km) Hetton colliery railway in 1820. He used a combination of gravity on downward inclines and locomotives for level and upward stretches. It was the first railway using no animal power.

Other locomotives include:

1817-1848 The Duke for the Kilmarnock and Troon Railway

Stockton and Darlington Railway

The No. 1 engine, called Locomotion, for the Stockton & Darlington RailwayIn 1821, a parliamentary bill was passed to allow the building of the Stockton and Darlington Railway (S&DR). The 25-mile (40 km) railway connected collieries near Bishop Auckland to the River Tees at Stockton, passing through Darlington on the way. The original plan was to use horses to draw coal carts on metal rails, but after company director Edward Pease met Stephenson, he agreed to change the plans. Stephenson surveyed the line in 1821, assisted by his eighteen-year-old son Robert and construction began the same year.[2]

The Experiment - the first railway carriageA manufacturer was needed to provide the locomotives for the line. Pease and Stephenson had jointly established a company in Newcastle to manufacture locomotives. It was set up as Robert Stephenson and Company, and George's son Robert was the managing director. A fourth partner was Michael Longridge of Bedlington Ironworks.[2] On an early trade card, Robert Stephenson & Co was described as "Engineers, Millwrights & Machinists, Brass & Iron Founders".[7] In September 1825 the works at Forth Street, Newcastle completed the first locomotive for the railway: originally named Active, it was renamed Locomotion and was followed by "Hope", "Diligence" and "Black Diamond". The Stockton and Darlington Railway opened on 27 September 1825. Driven by Stephenson, Locomotion hauled an 80-ton load of coal and flour nine miles (15 km) in two hours, reaching a speed of 24 miles per hour (39 km/h) on one stretch. The first purpose-built passenger car, Experiment, was attached and carried dignitaries on the opening journey. It was the first time passenger traffic had been run on a steam locomotive railway.[2]

The rails used for the line were wrought-iron, produced by John Birkinshaw at the Bedlington Ironworks. Wrought-iron rails could be produced in longer lengths than cast-iron and were less liable to crack under the weight of heavy locomotives. William Losh of Walker Ironworks thought he had an agreement with Stephenson to supply cast-iron rails, and Stephenson's decision caused a permanent rift between them. The gauge Stephenson chose for the line was 4 feet 8+1⁄2 inches (1,435 mm) which subsequently was adopted as the standard gauge for railways, not only in Britain, but throughout the world.[2]

Liverpool and Manchester Railway

First passenger railway, L&MRStephenson had ascertained by experiments at Killingworth that half the power of the locomotive was consumed by a gradient as little as 1 in 260.[8] He concluded 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 (L&MR), executing a series of difficult cuttings, embankments and stone viaducts to level their routes. Defective surveying of the original route of the L&MR caused by hostility from some affected landowners meant Stephenson encountered difficulty during Parliamentary scrutiny of the original bill, especially under cross-examination by Edward Hall Alderson. The bill was rejected and a revised bill for a new alignment was submitted and passed in a subsequent session. The revised alignment presented the problem of crossing Chat Moss, an apparently bottomless peat bog, which Stephenson overcame by unusual means, effectively floating the line across it.[2] The method he used was similar to that used by John Metcalf who constructed many miles of road across marshes in the Pennines, laying a foundation of heather and branches, which became bound together by the weight of the passing coaches, with a layer of stones on top.

As the L&MR approached completion in 1829, its directors arranged a competition to decide who would build its locomotives, and the Rainhill Trials were run in October 1829. Entries could weigh no more than six tons and had to travel along the track for a total distance of 60 miles (97 km). Stephenson's entry was Rocket, and its performance in winning the contest made it famous. George's son Robert had been working in South America from 1824 to 1827 and returned to run the Forth Street Works while George was in Liverpool overseeing the construction of the line. Robert was responsible for the detailed design of Rocket, although he was in constant postal communication with his father, who made many suggestions. One significant innovation, suggested by Henry Booth, treasurer of the L&MR, was the use of a fire-tube boiler, invented by French engineer Marc Seguin that gave improved heat exchange.[2]

The opening ceremony of the L&MR, on 15 September 1830, drew luminaries from the government and industry, including the Prime Minister, the Duke of Wellington. The day started with a procession of eight trains setting out from Liverpool. The parade was led by "Northumbrian" driven by George Stephenson, and included "Phoenix" driven by his son Robert, "North Star" driven by his brother Robert and "Rocket" driven by assistant engineer Joseph Locke. The day was marred by the death of William Huskisson, the Member of Parliament for Liverpool, who was struck by Rocket. Stephenson evacuated the injured Huskisson to Eccles with a train, but he died from his injuries. Despite the tragedy the railway was a resounding success. Stephenson became famous, and was offered the position of chief engineer for a wide variety of other railways.[2]

Stephenson's skew arch bridge Stephensons Bridge A close-up of the technique1830 also saw the grand opening of the skew bridge in Rainhill over of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. The bridge was the first to cross any railway at an angle.[9] It required the structure to be constructed as two flat planes (overlapping in this case by 6') between which the stonework forms a parallelogram shape when viewed from above. It has the effect of flattening the arch and the solution is to lay the bricks forming the arch at an angle to the abutments (the piers on which the arches rest). The technique, which results in a spiral effect in the arch masonry, provides extra strength in the arch to compensate for the angled abutments.[10]

The bridge is still in use at Rainhill railway station, and carries traffic on the A57 (Warrington Road). The bridge is a listed structure.

Later career

The next ten years were the busiest of Stephenson's life as he was besieged with requests from railway promoters. Many of the first American railroad builders came to Newcastle to learn from Stephenson and the first dozen or so locomotives utilised in there were purchased from the Stephenson shops. Stephenson's conservative views on the capabilities of locomotives meant he favoured circuitous routes and civil engineering that were more costly than his successors thought necessary. For example, rather than the West Coast Main Line taking the direct route favoured by Joseph Locke over Shap between Lancaster and Carlisle, Stephenson was in favour of a longer sea-level route via Ulverston and Whitehaven. Locke's route was built. Stephenson tended to be more casual in estimating costs and paperwork in general. He worked with Joseph Locke on the Grand Junction Railway with half of the line allocated to each man. Stephenson's estimates and organising ability proved inferior to those of Locke and the board's dissatisfaction led to Stephenson's resignation causing a rift between them which was never healed.[2]

Despite Stephenson's loss of some routes to competitors due to his caution, he was offered more work than he could cope with, and was unable to accept all that was offered. He worked on the North Midland line from Derby to Leeds, the York and North Midland line from Normanton to York, the Manchester and Leeds, the Birmingham and Derby, the Sheffield and Rotherham among many others.[2]

Stephenson became a reassuring name rather than a cutting-edge technical adviser. He was the first president of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers on its formation in 1847. By this time he had settled into semi-retirement, supervising his mining interests in Derbyshire - tunneling for the North Midland Railway revealed coal seams, and Stephenson put money into their exploitation.

Personal life

George first courted Elizabeth (Betty) Hindmarsh, a farmer's daughter from Black Callerton, whom he met secretly in her orchard. Her father refused marriage because of Stephenson's lowly status as a miner.[11] George next paid attention to Anne Henderson where he lodged with her family, but when she rejected him and he transferred his attentions to her sister Frances (Fanny), who was nine years his senior. George and Fanny married at Newburn Church on 28 November 1802. They had two children Robert (1803) and Fanny (1805) but she died within months, and George's wife died, probably of tuberculosis, the year after. While George was working in Scotland, Robert was brought up by a succession of neighbours and then by George's unmarried sister Eleanor (Nelly), who lived with them in Killingworth on George's return.

On 29 March 1820, George (now considerably wealthier) marred Betty Hindmarsh at Newburn. The marriage seems to have been happy, but there were no children and Betty died in 1845.

On 11 January 1848, at St John's Church in Shrewsbury, Shropshire, George married for the third time, to Ellen Gregory, another farmer's daughter originally from Bakewell in Derbyshire, who had been his housekeeper. Six months after his wedding, George contracted pleurisy and died, aged 67, on 12 August 1848 at Tapton House in Chesterfield, Derbyshire. He was buried at Holy Trinity Church, Chesterfield, alongside his second wife.[2]


George Stephenson had two children, Robert was born on 16 October 1803. He and married Frances Sanderson, daughter of a City of London professional John Sanderson, on 17 June 1829. Robert died in 1859 having no children. His daughter was born in 1805 but died within weeks of her birth.


Britain led the world in the development of railways whichacted as a stimulus for the Industrial Revolution by facilitating the transport of raw materials and manufactured goods. George Stephenson cannot claim to have invented the locomotive. Richard Trevithick deserves that credit. George Stephenson, with his work on the Stockton and Darlington Railway and the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, paved the way for the railway engineers who followed, such as his son Robert, his assistant Joseph Locke who carried out much work on his own account and Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Stephenson was farsighted in realising that the individual lines being built would eventually be joined together, and would need to have the same gauge. The standard gauge used throughout much of the world is due to him. In 2002, Stephenson was named in the BBC's list of the 100 Greatest Britons following a UK-wide vote.[12]

Memorials and commemorations

George Stephenson statue, Chesterfield March 2011George Stephenson's Birthplace is an 18th century historic house museum in the village of Wylam, and is operated by the National Trust.

Chesterfield Museum in Chesterfield, Derbyshire, has a gallery of Stephenson memorabilia, including straight thick glass tubes he invented for growing straight cucumbers. The museum is in the Stephenson Memorial Hall[13] (which also incorporates the Pomegranate Theatre, formerly the Chesterfield Civic Theatre) and adjacent to Stephensons Place, mid-way between Stephenson's final home at Tapton House and his grave in Trinity Church. In Liverpool, where he lived at 34 Upper Parliament Street, a City of Liverpool Heritage Plaque is situated next to the front door.

George Stephenson College, founded in 2001 on the University of Durham's Queen's Campus in Stockton-on-Tees, is named after him. Also named after him and his son is George Stephenson High School in Killingworth, Stephenson Memorial Primary School in Howdon, the Stephenson Railway Museum in North Shields and the Stephenson Locomotive Society. The Stephenson Centre, an SEBD Unit of Beaumont Hill School in Darlington, is named after him. His last home in Tapton, Chesterfield is now part of Chesterfield College where the higher education is held Called Tapton House Campus.

As a tribute to his life and works, a bronze statue of Stephenson was unveiled at Chesterfield railway station in the town where Stephenson spent the last ten years of his life) on 28 October 2005, marking the completion of improvements to the station. At the event a full-size working replica of the Rocket was on show, which then spent two days on public display at the Chesterfield Market Festival. A statue of him dressed in classical robes stands in Neville Street, Newcastle, facing the building that houses the Literary and Philosophical Society and the Mining Institute, near Newcastle railway station.

From 1990 until 2003, Stephenson's portrait appeared on the reverse of Series E £5 notes issued by the Bank of England. Stephenson's face is shown alongside an engraving of the Rocket steam engine and the Skerne Bridge on the Stockton to Darlington Railway.[14]


^ Kirby, M. W. (1984). "Stephenson, George (1781–1848)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2 ed.). Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Davies, Hunter (1975). George Stephenson. Weidenfeld and Nicolson. ISBN 0-297-76934-0. ^ "Geordie". Oxford English Dictionary (2 ed.). Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. 1989. ^ Smiles (1857) ^ Paul Reynolds, 'George Stephenson's 1819 Llansamlet locomotive' in M.J.T. Lewis (ed.), Early Railways 2: papers from the Second International Early Railways Conference (London : Newcomen Society, 2003), pp 165–76 ^ Nock, Oswald (1955). "Building the first main lines". The Railway Engineers. London: Batsford. p. 62. ^ Ellis, Chris; Morse, Greg (2010). Steaming through Britain. London: Conway. p. 47. ISBN 978-1-84486-121-7. ^ Smiles 1862, p. 244 ^ "Railway History". Rainhill Parish Council. ^ Simmons, Jack and Biddle, Gordon (1997). The Oxford companion to British railway history. Oxford University Press. pp. 45–47. ISBN 0-19-211697-5. ^ Samuel Smiles disputes this account, saying that Miss Hindmarsh's brother assured him that she didn't meet him before 1818 or 19. See Lives of the Engineers 1862 vol 3. p116 (footnote). ^ "100 great Britons - A complete list". Daily Mail. 21 August 2002. Retrieved 2 August 2012. ^ "SK3871: Stephenson Memorial Hall". Geograph. Retrieved May 13, 2011. ^ "Withdrawn banknotes reference guide". Bank of England. Retrieved 2008-10-17.

Biographical works

Smiles, Samuel (1857). The Life of George Stephenson. London. Davies, Hunter (2004). George Stephenson: The Remarkable Life of the Founder of Railways. Stroud: Sutton Publishing. ISBN 978-0-7509-3795-5. Rolt, L.T.C. (1960). George and Robert Stephenson: The Railway Revolution. London: Penguin. ISBN 978-0-14-007646-2. Ross, David (2010). George and Robert Stephenson: A Passion for Success. Stroud: History Press. ISBN 978-0-7524-5277-7.




George Stephenson was born on June 9, 1781, in Wylam, near Newcastle-on-Tyne. His father Robert worked in the Wylam Colliery as a fireman, and the family's cottage was right beside the Wylam Wagonway. This wooden track took wagons from the colliery to the Tyne river for transport.

George was fascinated by machines from an early age. He took evening classes in reading and writing, even after he joined his father as a colliery worker. In 1802 George Stephenson became an engineman, and soon after he married Frances Henderson. Together they had one child, Robert, but Frances suffered from consumption and died in 1806. Stephenson later married twice more.

Stephenson moved to Killingworth Colliery as an engineman, but his fascination with machines continued, and in his spare time he took apart the colliery engines to discover how they worked. So swiftly did he learn that he was appointed enginewright by the colliery in 1812.

Stephenson developed a new safety lamp that would not explode when used near the highly flammable gasses found in the mines.

He also convinced the mine manager to experiment with steam locomotion. By 1814 he developed the Blutcher, which was capable of pulling 30 tons up a grade at 4 miles per hour. His design was the first to successfully use flanged wheels running on rails.

Over the next several years Stephenson built a further 16 engines at Killingworth. The mine owners were so impressed with his accomplishments that they put him to work building an 8 mile railway from Hetton to Sunderland.

Stephenson was hired by the Stockton and Darlington railway to help build the line linking collieries at West Durham and Darlington with the River Tees. With his son Robert Stephenson he formed Robert Stephenson & Company, the first locomotive building company in the world, headquartered in Newcastle. The first locomotive engine produced by the new company, called Locomotion, was finished in the fall of 1825.

The Stockton & Darlington line was officially opened on September 27, 1825. To rapt attention from crowds of onlookers, Stephenson guided the Locomotion along the 9 mile track in just under 2 hours.

Stephenson was hired by other railways, such as the Bolton & Leigh. But his big triumph came in 1829. The proposed Liverpool & Manchester railway directors held a trial to determine which locomotive to use for their railway. The winner also received the huge sum of £500.

The contest was held at Rainhill, and of ten engines entered, only 5 turned up and just 3 functioned well enough to take part in the Rainhill Trials. The winner was Rocket, produced by the Stephensons.

Stephenson went from strength to strength. He was chief engineer for the Manchester & Leeds, Birmingham & Derby, Normanton & York and Sheffied & Rotherham railways. He was constantly innovating, constantly improving his engines and the tracks.

He was so successful that he was able to purchase Tapton House, near Chesterfield, in 1838. He invested in coalmines, ironworks, and quarries, and also experimented with animal husbandry and stock breeding.

George Stephenson died at Tapton House on August 12, 1848.


George Stephenson, the son of a colliery fireman, was born at Wylam, eight miles from Newcastle-upon-Tyne, on 9th June, 1781. The cottage where the Stephenson family lived was next to the Wylam Wagonway, and George grew up with a keen interest in machines. George's first employment was herding cows but when he was fourteen he joined his father at the Dewley Colliery. George was an ambitious boy and at the age of eighteen he began attending evening classes where he learnt to read and write.

In 1802 Stephenson became a colliery engineman. Later that year he married Frances Henderson, a servant at a local farm. To earn extra money, in the evenings, he repaired clocks and watches. On 16th October, 1803, his only son, Robert was born. Frances suffered from poor health and she died of consumption in 1806.

When he was twenty-seven, Stephenson found employment as an engineman at Killingworth Colliery. Every Saturday he took the engines to pieces in order to understand how they were constructed. This included machines made by Thomas Newcomen and James Watt. By 1812 Stephenson's knowledge of engines resulted in him being employed as the colliery's enginewright.

Working at a colliery, George Stephenson was fully aware of the large number of accidents caused by explosive gases. In his spare time Stephenson began work on a safety lamp for miners. By 1815 he had developed a lamp that did not cause explosions even in parts of the pit that were full of inflammable gases. Unknown to Stephenson, Humphry Davy was busy producing his own safety lamp.

In 1813 Stephenson became aware of attempts by William Hedley and Timothy Hackworth, at Wylam Colliery, to develop a locomotive. Stephenson successfully convinced his colliery manager, Nicholas Wood, his to allow him to try to produce a steam-powered machine. By 1814 he had constructed a locomotive that could pull thirty tons up a hill at 4 mph. Stephenson called his locomotive, the Blutcher, and like other machines made at this time, it had two vertical cylinders let into the boiler, from the pistons of which rods drove the gears.

Where Stephenson's locomotive differed from those produced by John Blenkinsop, William Hedley and Timothy Hackworth, was that the gears did not drive the rack pinions but the flanged wheels. The Blutcher was the first successful flanged-wheel adhesion locomotive. Stephenson continued to try and improve his locomotive and in 1815 he changed the design so that the connecting rods drove the wheels directly. These wheels were coupled together by a chain. Over the next five years Stephenson built sixteen engines at Killingworth. Most of these were used locally but some were produced for the Duke of Portland's wagonway from Kilmarnock to Troon.

The owners of the colliery were impressed with Stephenson's achievements and in 1819 he was given the task of building a eight mile railroad from Hetton to the River Wear at Sunderland. While he was working on this Stephenson became convinced that to be successful, steam railways had to be made as level as possible by civil engineering works. The track was laid out in sections. The first part was worked by locomotives, this was followed by fixed engines and cables. After the railway reached 250 feet above sea level, the coal wagons travelled down over 2 miles of self-acting inclined plane. This was followed by another 2 miles of locomotive haulage. George Stephenson only used fixed engines and locomotives and had therefore produced the first ever railway that was completely independent of animal power.

On 19th April 1821 an Act of Parliament was passed that authorized a company owned by Edward Pearse to build a horse railway that would link the collieries in West Durham, Darlington and the River Tees at Stockton. Stephenson arranged a meeting with Pease and suggested that he should consider building a locomotive railway. Stephenson told Pease that "a horse on an iron road would draw ten tons for one ton on a common road". Stephenson added that the Blutcher locomotive that he had built at Killingworth was "worth fifty horses".

That summer Edward Pease took up Stephenson's invitation to visit Killingworth Colliery. When Pease saw the Blutcher at work he realised George Stephenson was right and offered him the post as the chief engineer of the Stockton & Darlington company. It was now now necessary for Pease to apply for a further Act of Parliament. This time a clause was added that stated that Parliament gave permission for the company "to make and erect locomotive or moveable engines".

Stephenson began working with William Losh, who owned an ironworks in Newcastle. Together they patented their own make of cast iron rails. In 1821 John Birkinshaw, an engineer at Bedlington Ironworks, developed a new method of rolling wrought iron rails in fifteen feet lengths. Stephenson went to see these malleable rails and decided they were better than those that he was making with Losh. Although it cost him a considerable amount of money, Stephenson decided to use Birkinshaw's rails, rather than those he made with Losh, on the Stockton & Darlington line.

In 1823 Edward Pease joined with Michael Longdridge, George Stephenson and his son Robert Stephenson, to form a company to make the locomotives. The Robert Stephenson & Company, at Forth Street, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, became the world's first locomotive builder. Stephenson recruited Timothy Hackworth, one of the engineers who had helped William Hedley to produce Puffing Billy, to work for the company. The first railway locomotive, Locomotion, was finished in September 1825. The locomotive was similar to those that Stephenson had produced at the collieries at Killingworth and Heaton.

Work on the track began in 1822. George Stephenson used malleable iron rails carried on cast iron chairs. These rails were laid on wooden blocks for 12 miles between Stockton and Darlington. The 15 mile track from the collieries and Darlington were laid on stone blocks.

While building this railway George Stephenson discovered that on a smooth, level track, a tractive force of ten pounds would move a ton of weight. However, when there was a gradient of 1 in 200, the hauling power of a locomotive was reduced by 50 per cent. Stephenson came to the conclusion that railways must be specially designed with the object of avoiding as much as possible changes in gradient. This meant that considerable time had to be spent on cuttings, tunnels and embankments.

The Stockton & Darlington line was opened on 27th September, 1825. Large crowds saw George Stephenson at the controls of the Locomotion as it pulled 36 wagons filled with sacks of coal and flour. The initial journey of just under 9 miles took two hours. However, during the final descent into the Stockton terminus, speeds of 15 mph (24 kph) were reached.

The Stockton & Darlington line successfully reduced the cost of transporting coal and in 1826 Stephenson was appointed engineer and provider of locomotives for the Bolton & Leigh railway. He also was the chief engineer of the proposed Liverpool & Manchester railway. Stephenson was faced with a large number of serious engineering problems. This included crossing the unstable peat bog of Chat Moss, a nine-arched viaduct across the Sankey Valley and a two-mile long rock cutting at Olive Mount.

The directors of the Liverpool & Manchester company were unsure whether to use locomotives or stationary engines on their line. To help them reach a decision, it was decided to hold a competition where the winning locomotive would be awarded £500. The idea being that if the locomotive was good enough, it would be the one used on the new railway.

The competition was held at Rainhill during October 1829. Each competing locomotive had to haul a load of three times its own weight at a speed of at least 10 mph. The locomotives had to run twenty times up and down the track at Rainhill which made the distance roughly equivalent to a return trip between Liverpool and Manchester. Afraid that heavy locomotives would break the rails, only machines that weighed less than six tons could compete in the competition. Ten locomotives were originally entered for the Rainhill Trials but only five turned up and two of these were withdrawn because of mechanical problems. Sans Pariel and Novelty did well but it was the Rocket, produced by George and his son, Robert Stephenson, that won the competition.

The Liverpool & Manchester railway was opened on 15th September, 1830. The prime minister, the Duke of Wellington, and a large number of important people attended the opening ceremony that included a procession of eight locomotives. Unfortunately, the day was marred by one of the government ministers, William Huskisson, being knocked down and killed by one of the locomotives. After his success with the Liverpool & Manchester railway, Stephenson was the chief engineer of the following railways: Manchester & Leeds, Birmingham & Derby, Normanton & York and Sheffied & Rotherham.

George Stephenson continued to work on improving the quality of the locomotives used on the railway lines he constructed. This included the addition of a steam-jet developed by Goldsworthy Gurney that increased the speed of the Rocket to 29 mph.

In 1838 Stephenson purchased Tapton House, a Georgian mansion near Chesterfield. Stephenson went into partnership with George Hudson and James Sanders and together they opened coalmines, ironworks and limestone quarries in the area. Stephenson also owned a small farm where he experimented with stock breeding, new types of manure and animal food. He also developed a method of fattening chickens in half the usual time. He did this by shutting them in dark boxes after a heavy feed.

Stephenson's second wife, Elizabeth Hindley, died in 1845. George Stephenson married for a third time just before he died at Tapton House, Chesterfield on 12th August, 1848.


George Stephenson (June 9, 1781 – August 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.

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.

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.

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.

Rich and successful for the remainder of his career, George Stephenson passed away on 12 August 1848 in Chesterfield, England.

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.

view all

George Stephenson's Timeline

June 9, 1781
Wylam, Northumberland, England, United Kingdom
July 22, 1781
Ovingham, Northumberland
October 16, 1803
Willington Quay, Northumberland, England
July 1805
August 12, 1848
Age 67
Tapton House, Chesterfield, Derbyshire
August 17, 1848
Age 67
Trinity Church, Chesterfield, Derbyshire