George Stephenson was born on June 9, 1781, in the coal mining village of Wylam, England. His father, Robert Stephenson, was a poor, hard working man, that supported his family entirely from wages of twelve shillings a week.
Wagons loaded with coal passed through Wylam several times a day. These wagons were drawn by horses — locomotives had not yet been invented. George Stephenson’s first job was to watch over a few cows owned by a neighbor which were allowed to feed along the road; George was paid two cents a day to keep the cows out of the way of the coal-wagons; and also, to close the gates after the day’s work of the wagons was over.
George Stephenson’s next job was at the mines as a picker. His duty was to clean the coal of stone, slate, and other impurities. Eventually, George Stephenson worked at several coal mines as a fireman, plugman, brakeman, and engineer.
However, in his spare time George loved to tinker with any engine or piece of mining equipment that fell into his hands. He became skilled at adjusting and even repairing the engines found in the mining pumps, even though at that time he could not read or write. As a young adult, George paid for and attended night school where he learned to read, write, and do arithmetic. In 1804, George Stephenson walked on foot to Scotland to take a job working in a coal mine that used one of James Watt’s steam engines, the best steam engines of the day.
In 1807, George Stephenson considered emigrating to America; but he was too poor to pay for the passage. He began work nights repairing shoes, clocks, and watches, making extra money that he would spend on his inventing projects.
In 1813, George Stephenson became aware that William Hedley and Timothy Hackworth were designing a locomotive for the Wylam coal mine. So at the age of twenty, George Stephenson began the construction of his first locomotive. It should be noted that at this time in history, every part of the engine had to be made by hand, and hammered into shape just like a horseshoe. John Thorswall, a coal mine blacksmith, was George Stephenson’s main assistant.
After ten months’ labor, George Stephenson’s locomotive “Blucher” was completed and tested on the Cillingwood Railway on July 25, 1814. The track was an uphill trek of four hundred and fifty feet. George Stephenson’s engine hauled eight loaded coal wagons weighing thirty tons, at about four miles an hour. This was the first steam engined powered locomotive to run on a railroad and it was the most successful working steam engine that had ever been constructed up to this period, this encouraged the inventor make further experiments. In all, Stephenson built sixteen different engines.
George Stephenson build the world’s first public railways: the Stockton and Darlington railway in 1825 and the Liverpool-Manchester railway in 1830. Stephenson was the chief engineer for several of the railways.
In 1815, George Stephenson invented a new safety lamp that would not explode when used around the flammable gasses found in the coal mines.
Also in 1815, George Stephenson and Ralph Dodds patented an improved method of driving (turning) locomotive wheels using pins attached to the spokes to act as cranks. The driving rod was connected to the pin using a ball and socket joint, previously gear wheels had been used.
Stephenson and William Losh, who owned an ironworks in Newcastle patented a method of making cast iron rails.
In 1829, George Stephenson and his son Robert invented a multi-tubular boiler for the now-famous locomotive “Rocket”.