• Why is George Stephenson famous?

    Why is he famous?
    George Stephenson was an engineer. He built steam locomotives for the first railways. Sometimes people call him 'the Father of the Railway'.

    When did he live?
    George Stephenson was born in 1781. At this time Britain was starting to change from a land of farms and small villages to a land of factories and big cities. We call this change the Industrial Revolution. By the time George Stephenson died in 1848, its new railways and factories had made Britain the richest country in the world.

    Stephenson and son
    George Stephenson's son Robert helped him build railways. Robert was born in 1803 and died in 1859. He became as famous as his father. Robert Stephenson built bridges too, and was a Member of Parliament.

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  • Early life

    Where did George live?
    George Stephenson was born on 9 June 1781. His home was at Wylam, near Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Near where he lived there were coal mines. George's father worked at a coal mine. He looked after steam engines, used to pump water out of the mine.

    George's home
    The Stephensons were not rich. George lived in a small cottage. The cottage is now looked after by the National Trust. Visitors come from all over the world to see it.

    Did George go to school?
    George was interested in machines. He helped his dad. That's how he learned about steam engines.

    George didn't go to school. From the age of 8, he went to work. He looked after cows on a farm. He drove horses that worked at the mine.

    How did George learn to read?
    When George was 14, he helped his father at the coal mine. George took machines to bits, to see how they worked.

    He wanted to learn to read, write and count so he could get a better job. He went to school 3 nights a week after work.

    Family life
    George's father was Robert Stephenson. His mother's name was Mabel Carr.

    To earn extra money, George mended shoes. He taught himself to mend clocks. He was saving up to get married.

    In 1802, George married Frances Henderson. She was a servant at a farm. They had a son called Robert. In 1806 Frances became ill and died.

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  • The first railways

    George the engineer
    George was very clever. He invented a lamp for miners to use underground. But his real interest was in steam engines.

    Some steam engines drove machines in factories. One or two were made to run on wheels, along roads. Steam powered road engines were slow and could not go up hills.

    George worked out that a steam engine needed to run along rails.

    First railways
    In 1814 he made his first 'railway locomotive'. In 1819 George was asked to build a small railway at Hetton Colliery. The track was 8 miles long.

    In 1820 George married again. His second wife was Elizabeth Hindmarsh.

    Locomotion No. 1
    In 1825 a new railway was opened between the towns of Stockton and Darlington. George and his men built the track and the locomotive. It was the first passenger steam railway in the world.

    George drove the first train. The engine was called 'Locomotion No. 1'. It pulled a train with 450 passengers at a speed of 15 miles an hour.

    Liverpool to Manchester
    In 1829, another railway was planned, between the cities of Liverpool and Manchester. Not everyone was pleased. Some farmers did not want the railway to cross their fields.

    George Stephenson built the railway. He built track across a bog called Chat Moss. The owners of the railway wanted to find the best locomotive. They offered a prize of £500. Trials were held at Rainhill, near Liverpool. Crowds came to watch.

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  • Stephenson's rocket

    The Rainhill trials
    Only 3 locomotives took part in the trials in October 1829. They ran backwards and forwards along a track.

    'Novelty' was a favourite with the crowd. Another locomotive was called 'Sans Pareil', which means 'without equal'. But both engines kept breaking down.

    George and his son Robert had built the 'Rocket'. It puffed along faster than the others. It did not break down. Everyone agreed, the Rocket had won!

    The Rocket
    The Rocket had four wheels. It pulled a tender, a water tank on wheels. A fire burning coke heated water in a boiler to make steam. The steam power drove the wheels.

    The Rocket could pull a train full of people along the new railway.

    The railway opens
    On 15 September 1830, the Manchester to Liverpool railway was opened. People cheered for the Rocket and the other locomotives on the railway. George Stephenson was famous.

    The first railway accident
    Sadly, there was an accident on this great day. William Huskisson, a member of the government, was knocked down by the Rocket. He was the first person to be killed by a train.

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  • Father and son

    Robert Stephenson
    George Stephenson built many railways. His son Robert helped him.

    George paid for Robert to go to school, and to university in Edinburgh. Father and son did homework together, so George could learn more too.

    Robert spent three years in South America, before coming home to help build the Rocket.

    The railway age
    Robert Stephenson built the first railway from Birmingham to London. It was finished in 1838.

    The Rocket could pull a train at 36 miles an hour (58 km/h). No one had ever gone so fast before.

    The railway age had begun.

    What happened to George?
    George Stephenson became a rich man. He went to live in Derbyshire. He liked farms and gardens. After his second wife Elizabeth died, he married for a third time.

    George Stephenson died in 1848. He was buried in Chesterfield.

    What happened to Robert?
    Robert Stephenson built railways all over the world. He built bridges too, including the Menai Bridge in North Wales. One of his friends was the famous engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

    Robert Stephenson died in London in 1859. He was buried in Westminster Abbey.

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George Stephenson Game

George Stephenson

Build a locomotive and take part in the Rainhill trials.

Fun Facts
  • George's first locomotive went at only 4 mph. But it pulled wagons weighing 30 tons!

  • George's hobby was bird-watching. His father taught him about birds as a boy.

  • One 'locomotive' at the Rainhill trials was driven by a horse! It fell to bits before the trials began.

  • In 1844 George Stephenson went by train from London to Newcastle in 9 hours. This was much faster than in a horse and carriage.

  • George was very strong, and his favourite sport was wrestling!

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Jump to: A-D | E-G | H-L | M-O | P-S | T-Z

A to D

Land that is wet and soggy.
A tank filled with water, heated to make steam.
coal mine
A place where coal is dug from the ground.
A fuel for burning, made from coal.
Another word for a coal mine.

E to G

A person who makes machines, vehicles, roads, bridges and dams.

M to O

Industrial Revolution
Changes in work and science that started in the 1700s.
A railway engine, the machine that pulls a train.

P to S

Member of Parliament
A person elected to make laws.
National Trust
An organisation that looks after places of historic interest.

T to Z

A person who is paid to work for rich people.
steam engine
A machine driven by steam.
A wagon behind a steam locomotive that carries fuel and water.
The metal rails of a railway for trains to run along.
Tests to see who or what is best at something.