The natural consequence of steam power was locomotive force and the railway. The idea of using tracks to smoothly move wheeled carriages is remarkably old.
Theatres in ancient Sparta show evidence of scenery being slid on and off stage by rails. As early as the 15th century, rails were being used to push carts out of mines. By 1604 Huntingdon Beaumont had laid rails to carry coal from pits to Nottingham close by.
Such loads still had to be pushed by muscle power. But in 1804, Cornishman Richard Trevithick mounted a steam engine on wheels, capable of hauling 20 tons. Soon he was demonstrating a locomotive on a circular track in Euston Square, London. And although Trevithick didn’t realize the potential of what he had done – he moved on from locomotives and went off to Peru – his ideas led to a successful application of locomotives by 1812.
In Tyneside, a number of engineers were amazed by this new application of steam. A handful of innovators began to experiment with the idea, turning Tyneside into the brain store of the future railways. One of those innovators was George Stephenson. Often stealing each other’s ideas, Stephenson in particular had a vision of a network of railways, linking cities and carrying passengers as well as freight.
The businessmen of Darlington particularly liked the idea and employed Stephenson to build the first railway proper from Stockton to Darlington. It opened in 1825, the carriages pulled by the railway engine, Locomotion. Soon, railways were opened all over the country, the line from Manchester to Liverpool showing the real potential of the idea. Specific trials were held to encourage further innovation in this field, the most famous being the Rainhill Trials. For the event, Stephenson produced his famous Rocket, capable of hauling a train at 30 mph.
Railways were assured. With massive investment, Britain was crisscrossed with 6,000 miles of line by 1850, and similar endeavours went on in India, Russia, Europe and, of course, the opening of the western frontier in America.
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