The Father of Railways

George Stephenson, a civil and mechanical engineer, is considered as the Father of Railways.

George was born on June 9, 1781 in Wylam, Northumberland, England.

Rail transport system in the 19th century pioneered by his inventions helped a lot for the Industrial Revolution that made production processes shifted from hand to machine in Great Britain.

Standard Rail gauge i.e. 1.435 m (4 feet 8.5 inches) being used by most of the world’s railways was implemented by George Stephenson and hence called ‘Stephenson gauge’.

He and his son Robert Stephenson founded ‘Robert Stephenson & Company’, the first locomotive manufacturing company to build railway engines.

The company build the first steam locomotive to carry passengers called the Locomotion No. 1 in 1825 (operated by the Stockton & Darlington Railway).

The first intercity railway line (The Liverpool & Manchester Railway opened in 1930) using locomotives was also built by him.

George Stephenson was illiterate until the age of 18 since his parents were poor.

While working as an engineman at that time, he studied at night school.

George’s achievements in brief:

  • He was contemporary to Humphry Davy and made some sort of similar safety lamp such as Davy’s lamp and named it Geordie lamp in about 1815.

  • The Royal Society approved Davy’s lamp and the use of Stephenson lamp limited to North East England only.
  • In 1820, he was hired to build Helton Colliery Railway, an 8 mile (13 km) long private railway. It opened in 1822 and was the first railway operated without animals.
  • Robert Stephenson and Company was set up by him along with Edward Pease, a woollen manufacturer from Darlington, England, Robert Stephenson (his son as the managing director), and Michael Longridge of Bedlington Ironworks.
  • It was set up to build “Locomotion”, the first locomotive for Stockton and Darlington Railway which was opened on September 27, 1825.

  • Stephenson drove the first coach ‘Locomotion’ transporting 80-ton load of coal and flour for 9 miles (14 km) with a speed of 24 mph (39 km/h) in 2 hours at a stretch.
  • The Locomotive was attached with a passenger car, for the first time, called ‘Experiment’ run with a steam engine.

  • George Stephenson and his team built four locomotives viz. Northumbrian, Phoenix, North Star, and Rocket for the L&MR (Liverpool & Manchester Railway) and the opening ceremony was held on September 15, 1830.
  • He built a bridge known as Stephenson bridge still in use at Rainhill railway station on the A57, a major road called Warrington road which connects Liverpool and Lincoln.

Many of the American railroad companies consulted Stephenson and purchased many locomotives.

He was the first president of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE), an independent professional association, formed in 1847.

The standard track gauge (also called Stephenson gauge) of 1.435 meter is used throughout much of the world.

He took the place at 65 out of the 100 Greatest Britons following a nation-wide vote conducted by BBC in 2002.

There were many museums or memorials have arranged honouring him such as George Stephenson’s Birthplace in Wylam (his birth place) and Chesterfield Museum in Chesterfield, and Stephenson Memorial Hall.

Many educational institutions have been named after him and his son such as:

  1. George Stephenson College in 2001,
  2. George Stephenson High School in Killingworth,
  3. Stephenson Memorial Primary School in Howdon,
  4. The Stephenson Railway Museum in North Shields, and
  5. The Stephenson Locomotive Society (SLS) in 1909.

A bronze statue of Stephenson was placed in front of Chesterfield Railway Station in 2005.

Stephenson image was printed on the reverse of Series E £5 notes between 1990 and 2003 by the Bank of England. His face was engraved on the replica of his Rocket Steam Engine and Skerne Bridge, a bridge made on Skerne River flowing through County Durham in England.

His spouses were Frances Henderson (1802-1806), Elizabeth Hindmarsh (1820-1845), Ellen Gregory (married in 1848) and had two sons named Robert Stephenson, and Frances Stephenson (died early in his childhood).

He died on August 12, 1848 at the age of 67 at his Tapton House, Chesterfield, Derbyshire, England.

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