HISTORY OF STEPHENSON'S ROCKET
Stephenson's ROCKET was NOT the world's first steam engine. Nor was it the first steam locomotive to be built by the Stephensons. Stationary engines were in existence for nearly a century before the first steam locomotive was developed.
The first steam engine was invented by Thomas Newcomen, in 1712. James Watt and others worked on developing the steam engine. But the first steam locomotive in history was Richard Trevithick's Pen-y-Daren locomotive of 1804. A few years later, the Stephensons, George and his son Robert, began building and developing steam locomotives. Their Locomotion No.1, of 1825, was used on the Stockton and Darlington Railway, the first public railway to use steam locomotives.
The Stephensons had built eighteen locomotives when the Liverpool and Manchester Railway held a contest to find the most efficient and effective locomotive to run on their new line. The trials would be held at Rainhill, in October of 1829. The Stephensons came up with a locomotive design for the event, that incorporated all of the most advanced design features of the day into one engine. These included a flexible bar type of locomotive frame, a fire box that was completely surrounded by a water jacket and the use of exhaust steam from the cylinders to create a draught for the fire. These design features became standard in most future locomotive designs. The engineering journals of the day, said that passengers would be more foolhardy to ride behind the locomotive that to ride a military rocket. Inspired by this, the Stephensons named their nineteenth locomotive ROCKET.
ROCKET won the trials. At one point it was seen to pull a load of up to thirteen tons, at a rate of fifteen miles per hour. The Stephensons were awarded a contract with the L.&M.R.R. But some flaws showed up at Rainhill. Because of the position of the cylinders, the locomotive was not stable. After the trials, the cylinders were lowered and turned upside down (right side up) so that the valves were on top of the cylinders. The cylinders were placed on opposite sides of the locomotive and a larger smoke box was added. When the L.&M.R.R. opened in 1830, there were no less than five of these locomotives in operation.
The original ROCKET was retired after only a few years of service. Eventually, it was stripped of it's boiler cladding and anything that was brass or copper, including most of its fire box and all of its boiler tubes. The ROCKET sits today, thus desecrated and in its modified, post Rainhill configuration, in the Science Museum at South Kensington, London, England.
The National Railway Museum, in York, has at least one working reproduction of the locomotive as it appeared at Rainhill. As there are, no longer, any remaining drawings of the original locomotive, the reproduction was made using the remains of the original locomotive, at South Kensington, as a guide. The miniature version, by O.S. Engines, featured on the previous page, is a faithful reproduction of this famous and unique locomotive.