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George Stephenson

The Stockton & Darlington Railway opened in 1825, it was the first passenger railway in the world to use steam. The locomotives were designed by George Stephenson. Stephenson was a skilled engineer who had been unable to read or write until the age of 18. He paid for his own education at night school and became an expert in steam-driven machines while working in the collieries in Killingworth. In 1815 he invented the ‘Geordie’ lamp, preventing explosions from naked candle flames in the coal mines.

George Stephenson by Thomas Lewis Atkinson, after John Lucas mixed-method engraving, published 1849

Edward Pease had originally planned to use horses to pull the wagons on his now famous Stockton & Darlington Railway, but Stephenson convinced him that a steam engine could pull 50 times the load that horses could draw and travel more quickly. Edward appointed George Stephenson as his Chief Engineer, and George, along with his son Robert, designed and built the locomotives. The first was called Locomotion 1 and, driven by George Stephenson himself, was greeted by a waving and cheering crowd as it pulled the very first passengers – plus wagons of coal and flour – at the opening of the Railway on 27 September 1825.

Robert would go on to develop the famous ‘Rocket’, which set the template for the production of steam locomotives for the next 150 years.

The significance of George Stephenson’s contribution to British history led the National Portrait Gallery in London to include this portrait in their collection.

Image courtesy of National Portrait Gallery, London