Stephenson's Rocket

In the Science Museum, London
In the Science Museum, London

Stephenson's Rocket was an early steam locomotive of 0-2-2 wheel arrangement, built by George and Robert Stephenson in 1829.

A common misconception is that 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.

Rocket's claim to fame is that it was the first 'modern' locomotive, introducing several innovations that were used on almost every steam locomotive built since. In fact, the standard steam locomotive design is often called the "Stephensonian" locomotive. Rocket used a multi-tubular boiler, which made for much more efficient and effective heat transfer between the exhaust gases and the water. Previous boilers consisted of a single pipe surrounded by water. Rocket also used a blastpipe for the first time - using the blast of exhaust steam to induce a partial vacuum to pull air through the fire.

Nearly all steam locomotives built since have been based upon 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 in winning Rocket did fulfill the key requirement of the contest that a full simulated 90-km round trip under load be completed with satisfactory fuel consumption. The builders of 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 15 September 1830 the first run of Rocket was marred by the first railway casualty in history, with the accidental death of William Huskisson.

It was later used near Tindale village and used on Lord Carlisle's Railway ("Lord Carlisle's Railways" ISBN 0901115436 Publisher: Railway Correspondence & Travel Society, p 101). Rocket was donated to the Patent Museum in London in 1862 by the Thompsons of Milton Hall, near Brampton, in Cumbria.

It still exists, in 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, circa 1884, concluded that it seems to us indisputable that the Rocket of 1829 and 1830 were totally different engines.

The Replica

In 1979 a replica Rocket was built by Locomotion Enterprises.

External link

pl:Rakieta (parowóz)


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