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George Stephenson

Born: 1781, Died: 1848

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George Stephenson began his career as a collier, only learning to read and write at the age of 18 after attending night school.

Famous for building railway locomotives as well as his other achievements, he built his first locomotive in 1814 to haul coal. His "Rocket" won a competition in 1829, and the design was later used on the Liverpool-Manchester Railway.

He became engineer for several of the railroads that rapidly grew up and was consulted in the building of railroads and bridges in England and in other countries.

His son Robert Stephenson, 1803-59, and a nephew, George Robert Stephenson, 1819-1905, were also railroad engineers.

His engineering skill and history in the coal mines lead him to try to solve the seemingly intractable problem of safe lighting in coal mines. His version of the flame safety lamp was developed around the same time as that of his great rival, Sir Humphrey Davy, and although it is a matter of historical record that Stephenson's lamp was the first to be publicly demonstrated, Davy is often credited with the invention.

Neither man patented their safety lamp ideas, allowing their designs to be used freely for the benefit of all miners.


L. T. Rolt, The Railway Revolution:

George and Robert Stephenson (1962);

R. M. Robbins, George and Robert Stephenson (1966).