Saturday, June 9, 2012

George Stephenson

A statesman mentioned In Walter Scott’s journal, William Huskisson, ties us to today’s subject, George Stephenson.  Stephenson is the well-known English engineer, who built the locomotive named Rocket, which won its builder the right to supply the Liverpool and Manchester Railway with trains, but cost the former cabinet minister his life.  Huskisson left his train to greet Arthur Wellesley, and failed to see Stephenson’s Rocket heading toward him in time to reach safety.  Stephenson’s life is chronicled in, among other places, Samuel Smiles’ two works “The Life of George Stephenson” and “Lives of the Engineers (George and Robert Stephenson)”.  

Railways evolved quickly, and while the Liverpool and Manchester line was envisioned initially to carry merchandise, it soon served people as well.  And as “Lives of the Engineers” discusses, ‘the number of passengers carried by the Liverpool and Manchester line was so unexpectedly great, that it was very soon found necessary to remodel the entire system.  Tickets were introduced, by which a great saving of time was effected.  More roomy and commodious carriages were provided, the original first-class compartments being seated for four passengers only.  Everything was found to have been in the first instance made too light and too slight.  The prize ‘Rocket,’ which weighed only 4½ tons when loaded with its coke and water, was found quite unsuited for drawing the increasingly heavy loads of passengers.  There was also this essential difference between the old stage-coach and the new railway train, that, whereas the former was “full” with six inside and ten outside, the latter must be able to accommodate whatever number of passengers came to be carried.  Hence heavier and more powerful engines, and larger and more substantial carriages were from time to time added to the carrying stock of the railway…’

George Stephenson was born on June 9th, 1781.

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