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1. was responsible for building a life size steam locomotive
2. legally protected the design of a steam locomotive
3. created a small scale replica of a steam locomotive
4. was defeated by the limitations of the raw materials available to him
5. understood how steam locomotives could transport people
6. used steam for warfare
7. discovered a use for steam engines in the manufacturing industry
Choose one of
A. George Stephenson
B. Richard Trevithick
D. James Watt
E. John Fitch
From Corinth to Darlington –
A journey on two tracks with many detours along the way
There are those who believe that it was George Stephenson who was the inventor of railway transport and indeed many history books do credit him with this achievement. In point of fact though, railway transport had a long and varied history well before Stephenson came along with his legendary “Rocket” and “Locomotion” and he can at best be regarded as the man who popularised steam powered rail locomotion for passengers. Though, even in that sphere, he should be seen as simply developing ideas of other inventors rather than as being the true originator.
Strange as it may seem, the pioneers of rail transport were the Ancient Greeks of Corinth as far back as 600 BC. They produced a system for transporting boats across the Isthmus of Corinth, the narrow neck of land connecting the Peloponnese with mainland Greece, so that sailors no longer had to take the longer route around the Peloponnese. It worked by pulling wheeled vehicles along a track which was formed by grooves in the natural limestone and this prevented the wagons from leaving the intended route, much in the same way as modern railways work. Curiously, the technology for creating the first steam engine already existed at this time as Archimedes had invented the steam powered cannon. The Corinthians did not consider using steam to power this prototype of the railway but instead used horses and oxen.
The next great leap forward in rail transport came in Germany in the mid 16th century when a primitive form of wooden rails were introduced. The breakthrough was the so-called “hund” system. This involved the wheels running not on grooves in the ground as previously, but on wooden planks with a pin on the wagon that fitted into the gap between the planks so that the wagon ran in one direction. This system gradually evolved and became increasingly popular as a form of transport as the Industrial Revolution took hold of Western Europe. The reason being that, as coal and other minerals were being mined in ever larger quantities, there was a corresponding need for a form of transport that was energy efficient. A wheel running on a rigid rail provided just such a solution for the transport of heavy bulk goods as it needed less energy than the alternative road transport system which was hindered by the uneven road surfaces of the time.
The technology of the Industrial Revolution also provided the inspiration for the means to power these new rail systems in the form of steam. James Watt had seen the potential of steam to drive a wheel and developed a reciprocating engine that helped power the machinery in the cotton mills that were flourishing at the time. This stationary engine was both too large and inefficient to be utilised in transport, but in a relatively short span of time boiler technology improved and smaller engines were developed that could produce high pressure steam that acted directly on a piston so that they could drive a vehicle. Indeed, Watt himself patented a design for a steam locomotive in 1784.
At this point, progression in rail transport accelerated rapidly and within 30 years passenger transport became a reality. The first step was the construction of a working model of a steam locomotive by John Fitch in the United States in 1794 and a mere 10 years later a full scale steam locomotive was built in the united Kingdom by Richard Trevithick. While he made several advances towards constructing a truly functional railway locomotive, especially with the introduction of a fly-wheel system to even out the action of the piston that drove the wheels, Trevithick never managed to construct a locomotive that was more than simply experimental. The one problem he failed to overcome was that his engines were still too heavy to be borne by the tracks as the steel used was simply too weak.
The Napoleonic wars provided the stimulus in the next stage of this journey towards a workable form of rail transport. It became highly desirable that a means was found move provisions around the continent so that the all-important supply lines were not broken. Necessity being the mother of invention, it was not long before two key advances were made: a twin cylinder locomotive that was light enough not to break the rails and an adhesion system that ensured the weight of the locomotive was distributed evenly through a number of wheels. The success of these technological advances can be seen by the fact that the first commercially successful steam locomotive railway was in operation by 1812, transporting coal. At this point George Stephenson saw the potential of the new steam locomotive for passenger transport and, after a decade of improving on the existing technology, he was instrumental in the opening of the Stockton and Darlington Railway in 1825 in the north east of England. 600 people made a short journey of 26 miles and a new era in transport began.
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