Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
A common misconception is that the Rocket was the first steam locomotive. In fact the first steam locomotive to run on tracks was built by Richard Trevithick 25 years earlier, but was not financially successful. George Stephenson, as well as a number of other engineers, had built steam locomotives before. Rocket was in some ways an evolution, not a revolution.
What marks the Rocket out, is that it was the first of the 'modern' locomotives, as it used a multi-tubular boiler, which made the engine much more efficient. Previous boilers consisted of a single pipe surrounded by water. Other innovations included in the design were such things as the steam blast , venting the exhaust steam up the chimney to pull fresh air into the fire - increasing the heat of the fire and the pressure in the boiler, making the Rocket quicker.
Nearly all steam locomotives built since have been based upon the Rocket's basic design.
It was designed and built to compete in the Rainhill Trials, a competition to select the locomotive type for the Liverpool and Manchester Railway in October 1829. All the other competitors broke down so a true result is a bit hard to tell; however the winning Rocket did fulfill the key requirement of the contest that a full simulated 90km round trip under load be completed with satisfactory fuel consumption. The builders of the Rocket had already built about 50 engines, and presumably were fairly good at doing this.
At the official opening of the railway almost a year later on September 15 1830 the first run of the Rocket was marred by the first railway casualty in history, with the accidental death of William Huskisson.
Stephenson's rocket was later used near Tindale village and used on Lord Carlisle's Railway ("Lord Carlisle's Railways" ISBN 0901115436 Publisher: Railway Correspondence & Travel Society, pg 101.) The Rocket was donated to the Patent Museum in London in 1862 by the Thompsons of Milton Hall, near Brampton, in Cumbria.
Stephenson's Rocket still exists and resides at the Science Museum, London in much modified form compared to its state at the Rainhill Trials. The cylinders were altered to the horizontal position, compared to the slanted arrangement as new, and the locomotive was given a proper smokebox . Such are the changes in the engine from 1829, that The Engineer magazine, in circa 1884, concluded that it seems to us indisputable that the Rocket of 1829 and 1830 were totally different engines.
In 1979 a replica rocket was built by Locomotion Enterprises.
- The Rocket as QT VR
- Making the Modern World gallery
- Stephenson's Rocket board game by Reiner Knizia
- The Engineer magazine splutters over the differences between the 1829 and 1830 Rocket, as reprinted in Scientific American Supplement, No. 460, October 25, 1884.
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