The First Steam Locomotive – England 1804

in Steam

As an Englishman born and bred and a fan of history of steam Locomotives I thought it may be of interest to write an article about the history of the earliest steam locomotive. The first full scale working railway steam locomotive was built by Richard Trevithick in the United Kingdom on 21st February 1804 when the world's first railway journey took place as Trevithick's unnamed steam locomotive hauled a train along the tramway of the Penydarren ironworks, near Merthyr Tydfil in south Wales.

This is different from the first Steam Engine which was first invented in 1653 by Edward Somerset (1601 – 1667) was an English nobleman.

On Christmas Eve 1801 in West Cornwall, England an engineer called Richard Trevithick took his new steam car, ( or the "Puffing Devil" as it became known) out for its first test run. After a number of years research, Trevithick had developed a high-pressure engine powered by steam. His vehicle was no more than a boiler on 4-wheels but it took Trevithick and a number of his friends half a mile up a hill. The vehicle's principle feature was a cylindrical horizontal boiler and a single horizontal cylinder let into it. The piston propelled back and forth in the cylinder by pressure from the steam. This was linked by piston rod and connecting rod to a crankshaft bearing a large flywheel.

The vehicle was used for several journeys until it turned over on the unsuitable trails that were used for pack horses in Cornwall at that time. After having been righted, Trevithick and crew drove it back to Camborne and retired to a hostelry.

The water level dropped in the boiler and the fusible plug melted, sending a jet of steam into the furnace where it blew embers all around, setting fire to the surroundings and the wooden parts of the engine.

In 1802 a steam-powered coach designed by British engineer Richard Trevithick journeyed more than 160 km from Cornwall to London.

The "Puffing Dragon" was the world's first passenger car. Despite the disaster of losing his first vehicle, undeterred, Trevithick built a 3-wheeled steam carriage but this time complete with seats and a real carriage like appearance. In 1803, he drove it through London's Oxford Street on demonstration runs and reached speeds of 8-9 mph (13 - 14 km/h). Despite the runs, nobody was interested and so when he ran out of funds, he sold the power unit to a local Miller. Trevithick's vehicle was the first self-propelled carriage in the capital and in essence the first London bus.

Regular intercity bus services by steam-powered buses were also pioneered in England in the 1830s by Walter Hancock and by associates of Sir Goldsworthy Gurney among others, running reliable services over road conditions which were too hazardous for horse-drawn transportation. Steam carriages were much less likely to overturn, did not "run away with" the customer as horses sometimes did. They travelled faster than horse-drawn carriages (24 mph over four miles and an average of 12 mph over longer distances). They could run at a half to a third of the cost of horse-drawn carriages. Their brakes did not lock and drag like horse-drawn transport (a phenomenon that increased damage to roads).

According to engineers, steam carriages caused one-third the damage to the road surface as that caused by the action of horses' feet. Indeed, the wide tires of the steam carriages (designed for better traction) caused virtually no damage to the streets, whereas the narrow wheels of the horse-drawn carriages (designed to reduce the effort required of horses) tended to cause rutting.

However, the heavy road tolls imposed by the Turnpike Acts discouraged steam road vehicles and left the way clear for the horse bus companies, and from 1861 onwards, harsh legislation virtually eliminated mechanically-propelled vehicles altogether from the roads of Great Britain for 30 years, the Locomotive Act of that year imposing restrictive speed limits on "road locomotives" of 5 mph in towns and cities, and 10 mph in the country.

In 1865 the Locomotives Act of that year (the famous Red Flag Act) further reduced the speed limits to 4 mph in the country and just 2 mph in towns and cities, additionally requiring a man bearing a red flag to precede every vehicle. At the same time, the act gave local authorities the power to specify the hours during which any such vehicle might use the roads. The sole exceptions were street trams which from 1879 onwards were authorised under licence from the Board of Trade.

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Copyright © 2010 Paul Hussey. All Rights Reserved.

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My family tree has been traced back to the early Kings of England from the 7th Century AD. I am also a direct descendent of Sir Christopher Wren both of which has given me an interest in English History, English Sports, English Icons, English Discoveries and English Inventions which is great fun to research and I call "An Englishman's Favourite Bits Of England". Please visit my Blogs page http://Bloggs.Resources.Comwhere I have listed all my articles to date.

Copyright © 2010 Paul Hussey. All Rights Reserved.

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The First Steam Locomotive – England 1804

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This article was published on 2010/09/09