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George Stephenson (June 9, 1781 – August 12, 1848) was a British civil engineer and mechanical engineer who built the first public rail line in the world that used steam locomotives (Stockton- Darlington, 1825) and the first railway line with passenger transport that used steam locomotives (Canterbury-Withstable, 1830). Known as the “father of the railroads”, he designed the first modern railway line (Liverpool-Manchester, 1830), as well as its rolling stock and locomotives. It is also the creator of the track width of 1435 mm (approximately 4 feet 8 1/2 inches), known as “standard gauge”.
His son Robert Stephenson (1803-1859) was also a famous engineer.
He was born in June 1781 in Wylam, Northumberland (Great Britain). Son of a mining laborer (1748-1810), in his childhood he kept cows and did not learn to read until he was 18 years old. Later he worked as a shoemaker, tailor and watchmaker. In 1804 he entered the mines of Killingsworth to replace his father who had gone blind. Soon it was highlighted by a series of practical inventions. In 1810, a farmer in the region taught him notions of mathematics, mechanics and biology.
He invented one of the first security lamps that were used in the mines, although he shared the merit of the invention with the British Humphry Davy, who created a similar lamp around the same time.
His first works in the design of the locomotive were limited to the construction of machines to transport loads in the coal mines. In 1821 he built a steam locomotive for the Darlington-Stockton train, which was the only serviceable and reliable for a long time. But the first locomotive had already been built by Richard Trevithick in 1804, which did not work because it circulated in cast iron lanes unsuitable for its weight. In 1813 William Hedley had also built a locomotive, called “Puffing Billy”, for the Wylam mine. Therefore, George Stephenson can not be considered the inventor of the locomotive, but he is the most successful pioneer of the railroad at the beginning of the 19th century.
Under the direction of Stephenson, on September 27, 1825, the first railroad opened to the public was opened between Stockton and Darlington. His “Locomotion” was placed at the head of 38 wagons partially loaded with coal and wheat, although most were provided with banks for some 600 people who had come to the celebration. The next day the regular operation began with the “Experiment” car, but it was towed by horses for years.
The construction of the railway of Liverpool and Manchester in 1830 consolidated its fame forever. In Rainhill had previously held a contest between several models to see which was the best and fastest locomotive. The specifications stipulated that it had to carry three times its weight at a speed of 10 English miles per hour and without producing smoke. The Rocket of George Stephenson and his son Robert came out victorious by towing five times their weight at a speed of 14 to 20 miles per hour. This success was mainly due to the use of a forced draft that improved combustion and a larger boiler with tubes that produced more steam.
Thereafter Stephenson directed the construction of important railways in England or built machines for them and for lines in Belgium, Holland, France, Germany, Italy and Spain.
He died of pleurisy at Chesterfield on August 12, 1848 at the age of 67.
The Stephenson Railroad Museum in North Shields was named in his honor and that of his son, Robert Stephenson.
The Rocket is on display at the Science Museum in London.
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