William Murdock's steam locomotive

Contributed by ThinkTank Birmingham

William Murdock's model steam locomotive, c.1784. Copyright Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery

The first steam powered vehicle to run on a British road.William Murdock was a brilliant Scottish engineer and inventor. In 1777 he walked from his home in Ayrshire to Birmingham to follow his dream of working with Matthew Boulton and James Watt.

They employed him as an erector of steam engines in Cornwall, pumping water from the tin mines. He was fascinated by steam power, and while living in Redruth he experimented with the idea of using steam to power vehicles. He built this model engine around 1784, and set it running around his living room and, eventually, on the road outside. Boulton considered the idea too ambitious and, besides, Murdock was too useful to Boulton and Watt as their engine specialist to risk losing him to such a risky venture. They persuaded Murdock to abandon the project. If he had persevered, who knows what the outcome could have been? Instead, he contented himself with developing gas lighting. By 1792, his cottage and office in Redruth were gaslit.

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