Ahead of steam


Britain’s first rocket scientist, George Stephenson, died 150 years ago this week. In October 1829, the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, then under construction, offered a £500 prize for a locomotive that could pull three times its own weight at a speed of 10 miles an hour (16 kilometres per hour). George Stephenson designed the Rocket, and the engine was built by his son, Robert, who entered it for the railway’s trials at Rainhill near Liverpool. (George presumably couldn’t enter the competition as he was the railway’s chief engineer.) The Rocket triumphed over its rivals—three other steam engines, a horse-powered device and one worked by two men. You can find out how the press covered the Rainhill trials at the time in Mechanics Magazine at http://www.rainhill.com/history/trials.htm. You can even take the Rocket for a virtual test drive at Red Hill Studios’ InventorLabs site at http://www.redhillstudios.com/html/steph.html. The animation will only work if you have the Quicktime plug-in for your browser. More on these topics:
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