George Stephenson The Pioneer of Railways - 79

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.

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