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Robert Stephenson (October 16, 1803 – October 12, 1859) was an English civil engineer. He was also the only son of George Stephenson, the famous engineer of railroads and locomotives. However, many of the achievements normally attributed to his father were developed through the joint effort of father and son.
After receiving education at the Bruce Academy in Newcastle upon Tyne, being apprenticed to Nicolas Wood, director of Killingworth Colliery, and going through the University of Edinburgh, Robert went to work with his father on his railway projects, starting with the line from Stockton to Darlington. In 1823 Robert founded a company with his father and Edward Pease to build locomotives, the Robert Stephenson and Company, which manufactured a good percentage of the world’s first locomotives, and was operational until the middle of the 20th century. The original factory building still exists in Forth Street, Newcastle; it is now called the Robert Stephenson Center.
Robert did a good deal with the Rainhill Trials winner, The Rocket. Following this success the company built more locomotives for the rail line that went from Liverpool to Manchester and other recent railroads, including the one from Leicester to Swannington.
In 1833 Robert Stephenson obtained the post of chief engineer of the London and Birmingham Railway, the first railway line that entered London and the first section of the west coast line (West Coast Main Line). This route presented a large number of challenges to civil engineering, especially the Kilbsy Tunnel, but it was still completed in 1838. Stephenson was directly responsible for the tunnel that crossed Primrose Hill. The first locomotives could not afford to climb the section between Euston and Chalk Farm, so it was necessary for Stephenson to devise a system to climb the hill that operated by chains driven by a steam engine located next to The Roundhouse.
The Rocket of Stephenson, which is on display at the Science Museum in London.
Robert Stephenson was an internationally recognized expert for railway issues. For example, he was an advisor to the French engineer friend of his, Paulin Talabot, for the construction of the railway from Gard de Beaucaire to Alés in France between 1837 and 1840. He traveled to Spain to advise during the construction of the Vizcaya line to Madrid, and also He visited the Orleans railway to Tours in France. He was also a member of the Suez Canal Studies Society. In the autumn of 1850 he traveled to Switzerland on behalf of the Federal Government to prepare opinions on the planned railway network and financial issues.
Between 1851 and 1853 he built the railway from Alexandria to Cairo in Egypt, which in 1858 was extended to Suez.
He built several famous bridges, such as the High Level of Newcastle on the River Tyne; the Britannia Bridge, with wrought iron sections, crossing the Menai Strait; the bridge of Conwy, between Llandundno and Conwy; the Arnside Viaduct of Cumbria; the Royal Border Bridge of Berwick-upon-Tweed and a bridge for road and railroad of 1850 on the Nene River in Sutton Bridge, Lincolnshire.
One of the few mistakes of Stephenson’s career was the design of the Dee bridge, which sank while a train was crossing it, in what was called the Dee bridge disaster. He was harshly criticized for this design, even before the disaster, particularly because of poor choice of materials.
As a member of the Conservative Party he was elected member of Parliament by Whitby from 1847 until his death. He was commissioner of the Metropolitan Sewer Commission since 1848. He was also president of the Civil Engineers Institution from 1855 to 1857.
He died on October 12, 1859, shortly before he was 56 years old. His mortal remains rest in the Abbey of Westminster.
Despite their rivalry, Stephenson had an intimate friendship with Isambard Kingdom Brunel. They helped each other in various projects.
The Stephenson Railroad Museum in North Shields was named after him and his father.
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