Today, way back in 1814, the world was introduced to Stephenson’s first steam locomotive when ‘Blücher’ was given a test run on the Cillingwood railway.
At 20 years of age, George Stephenson, designed and built Blücher.
The test section of track was an uphill trek of four hundred and fifty feet. Blücher managed to haul eight loaded coal wagons weighing thirty tons, at about four miles an hour. This was the most successful working steam engine that had been constructed up to this period.
There had been other, early attempts (some successful). The most famous has to be Richard Trevithick’s which is recognised as the first. Sadly for poor Richard, his engines were far too heavy and proved to merely be stepping stones to the further evolution of steam powered engines.
George Stephenson, on the other hand, was young and determined and had his heart set on being the best. And the guy was 20! And so he built Blücher. Apparently, it was named after the Prussian general Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher, who, after a speedy march, arrived in time to help defeat Napoleon at the battle of Waterloo.
It’s important to realise that every single part of Blücher had to be hand made from scratch. There was no popping down to Homebase for a few rivets. At his right hand, Stephenson had John Thorswall, his able assistant and, quite handily, a skilled blacksmith.
Clearly Thorswell was the type of chap who says “Okay, let me work on that for a bit,” rather than the the type who say “You want WHAT now? Never gonna happen, George!” And a rather good job he was or Stephenson may not have become a name synonymous with steam engines.
Of course, when it came time to put people in the carriages behind the engine, there was a lot of concern. For a start, no-one had travelled so fast before. They had no idea what would happen.
They also had a problem entering tunnels (Victorian sensibilities being what they were) – this could be an urban myth. There was even talk that the chugging of the engines would put the cows off their milk production (sound familiar, Queensland?).
Even so, all of these obstacles were overcome and the railways were born and spread their metal lines everywhere there was a spare bit of ground. They changed the world forever.
So, happy birthday, Blücher, today is your day.