Figure 1.-- Coal wagons passing by George's home helped inspire his vission of a steam-powered railroad. This drawing by Robert Hodgson illustrated the Nock book.
The builders of the railway were adult engineers and entrepreneurs and seem far away from the world of children. It does not seem possible that the idea for the railway came into the mind of a child one day when a 7-year-old boy watched horse drawn wagons pass by his home in the North of England. This then is the story of that idea and how it affected the lives of future generations of children. The idea was born in the 18th Century it was a child’s dream. The boy imagined that machines would pull wagons along a track instead of horses. The name we gave to this method of transport was the railway and the boy with the dream was George Stephenson.
The family was poor but his father was a hard working man who some how managed to support his family on the meagre wages he was paid. The family lived in the village of Wylam. George’s father, like most people in the village, worked in the mines. He was a fireman and lived in a cottage owned by the Colliery. His father was a very imaginative man who delighted George and the local children with the stories he told. This imagination was something that passed from father to son
George was born June 9, 1781.
The builders of the railway were adult engineers and entrepreneurs and seem far away from the world of children. It does not seem possible that the idea for the railway came into the mind of a child one day when a seven-year-old boy watched horse drawn wagons pass by his home in the North of England. This then is the
story of that idea and how it affected the lives of future generations of children.
The idea was born in the 18th Century it was a child’s dream. The boy imagined that machines would pull wagons along a track instead of horses. The name we gave to this method of transport was the railway and the boy with the dream was George Stephenson.
George was a child visionary who in his imagination could see a time when steam engines
would pull carriages instead of horses. To the amusement of adults he made clay models of what they might look like. It was only when he grew up that circumstances occurred in which he was able to make his dream become a reality. In so doing he brought
adventurous travel to children. George Stephenson’s railway has brought joy and salvation to lots of children in ways that even he could not have imagined.
No development in modern history has affected individuals more than the Industrial Revolution and the manufacture of textiles played a key role. Historians debate just where and when the Industrail Revolution began. We would set it at about the mid-18th century in the English Midlands. Some authors might take issue with this, but this would be the most
widely accepted view. The first industry affected was the textile or clothing industry--one reason that the study of the clothing indusytry is so important. It was at this time that workers instead of weaving piece work at home, began to work in factories. Here cotton manufacture became especially important. Several inventions at this time were
responsible, including the spinning jenny, flying shuttle, and a water-powered loom. This was soon followed by the key invention of our time which served as a catalyst for industrial expansion--the steam engine. John Newcomen and James Watt developed the steam engine. Watt
between 1769-84 developed an efficient engine. The abundant supplies of coal in Britian combined with the technological advances by British inventors in part explain why Britain led the way in European industrial expansion. The significance was that the steam engine was an efficent source of energy that could be put to work in virtually every industry and because inexpensive energy was available, helped develop new industies. The railroad was essenially a steam engine on wheels. The railroad in turn revolutionalized the world economy. Many bulk goods like grain could not be sold at any significant distance from where it was grown or produced. The railroad allowed bulk goods to be transportd at great distance for limited costs, including ports where goods could be conducted aound the world. At
at those ports awaited steam-powered boats, floating steam engines, to effiently move cargos at low cost around the world.
The Stephenson home was right by the Wylam Wagonway. This was a track along which horses pulled the coal wagons to the River Tyne. Here the wagons were emptied into coal barges, which took the coal away. The track was made of wood. George was familiar with this scene.
He often watched the horses pulling the trucks as they passed by. The illustrator, Robert Hodgson, depicts this scene in the Nock book. His sketch saws a young boy dressed in long trousers and wearing a shirt. He seems to have a tie on. The shirt is buttoned. George
wears a short length coat, which is unbuttoned. He is wearing boots. The picture seems to focus on his keen observation and suggests that that this is the moment George had the
idea that a steam engines could be made to do this task. He became interested in engines and model making.
George did not go to school and never learnt to read and write until he was an adult.
Instead from about the age of nine he looked after cattle and earned about a shilling a week. This was a job in which George had a lot of time to spare and he made things. He turned reeds into whistles and he made tiny models of the mining engines
out of clay. These were not working models but the adults laughed because George had put wheels on them. In George’s imaginative play he tied them together so then the first one pulled all the rest when he moved it along the ground. The adults did not think anything
would come of this idea.
The idea of a steam engine, instead of horses pulling wagons became a reality when he was an adult. He built a locomotive called the ‘Rocket.’ It won the Rainhill Trials. This was a competition to find the best engine to pull wagons and carriages on the new Liverpool to
Manchester railway. George Stephenson is often thought of as the ‘Father of the Railway.’ He turned his childhood dream into reality.
Stephenson died August 12, 1848.
Nock, O.S. Father of the Railways: The story of George Stephenson (Nelson: Edinburgh , 1958).
Smiles, Samuel. 1858 The Life of George Stephenson.
Spedden, Douglas. (Madison, 1994) ISBN70316806250.
Woodruff, William. The Road to Nan End (Abacus Books, 1993). ISBN 0349115214