George Stephenson, the Father of Railways

George Stephenson was born June 9, 1781, near Newcastle-upon-Tyne. He was the second child born into a poor family who had no money for schooling. At 17, he became an engineman at Water Row Pit in Newburn. At that point, deciding to get an education and paid to study at night school to learn reading, writing, and arithmetic. After marrying, and then losing his wife, he moved with his young son, coming to work at the Killingworth coal mine. In 1811, the pumping engine at the mine was not working properly and Stephenson offered to fix it. He did so with such success that he was promoted to engine-wright for the collieries at Killingworth, responsible for maintaining and repairing all the colliery engines, and thus became an expert in steam engines.

He also created a safety lamp for miners, though he was not given a patent for it, mainly because the patent board couldn’t believe someone with such a thick northern accent could have possibly come up with the design on his own.

Stephenson built his first locomotive in 1814, which was designed for hauling coal on the Killingworth wagonway. In 1821, he was appointed engineer for the first public railway, the Stockton and Darlington, followed by the Liverpool to Manchester Railway. In October 1829, the railway’s owners staged a competition to find the best kind of locomotive to pull heavy loads over long distances. Stephenson’s locomotive ‘Rocket’ was the winner, achieving a record speed of 36 miles per hour, and making him famous. In addition, his rail gauge of four feet eight and a half inches became the global standard gauge.

As a person who loves to ride on trains, and who rode all over Britain on them a couple of years ago, I salute George Stephenson this day.

Quotes about railways

Railway termini are our gates to the glorious and the unknown. Through them we pass out into adventure and sunshine, to them, alas! we return.–E. M. Forster

Most men who have really lived have had, in some share, their great adventure. This railway is mine.–James J. Hill

I lived at home and I cycled every morning to the railway station to travel by train to Johannesburg followed by a walk to the University, carrying sandwiches for my lunch and returning in the evening the same way.–Sydney Brenner

Railways are irresistible bazaars, snaking along perfectly level no matter what the landscape, improving your mood with speed, and never upsetting your drink.–Paul Theroux

I can never think of the time I spend idling in railway stations as lost; it’s a waiting liberated from the three temporal vices of regret, anticipation or boredom, the weak echo of that bliss spent between lifetimes.–Eric Morecambe

There is nothing in machinery, there is nothing in embankments and railways and iron bridges and engineering devices to oblige them to be ugly. Ugliness is the measure of imperfection.–H. G. Wells

I don’t think I stand in need of planes or of railways or of cars.–Jorge Luis Borges

Before you ridicule, remember somebody on a railway platform who seems to be train spotting may actually be writing poetry.–John Hegley

So far I had been travelling alone with my handbook and my Western Railway timetable: I was happiest finding my own way and did not require a liaison…–Paul Theroux

Libraries are fascinating places: sometimes you feel you are under the canopy of a railway station, and when you read books about exotic places there’s a feeling of travelling to distant lands–Umberto Eco

Most of my recent plays were written in the railway train between Hatfield and Kings Cross. I write anywhere, on the top of omnibuses or wherever I may be; it is all the same to me.–George Bernard Shaw

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