King's College London
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Imperial designs: technology and empire in the 19th century

Developing the engines

Line drawing of a locomotive engine, views of side and back elevation.Diagram of a locomotive engine from 1856.In the historiography of the steam engine, the names of the father and son George and Robert Stephenson, from the north-east, are writ large, though it was a Cornishman, Richard Trevithick (1771-1833) who built the first railway locomotive. In February 1804 it hauled a 10-ton load, as well as 70 men and five wagons for a distance of nine and a half miles.

Through his practical application of the ‘double acting high pressure steam engine’ Trevithick had demonstrated that the steam locomotive had the potential to be utilised for a key requirement of the industrial age: the rapid transport of freight and personnel over large distances.

Trevithick was the son of a miner and grew up surrounded by the developing machinery of the industrial age, particularly that of  the mines of his native Cornwall, and this biography, written by his son, also details his and other engineers’ plans for the development of mining machinery.

The plate here shows a diagram of a locomotive engine from 1856.

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