Famous steam locomotives

Updated November 21, 2016

Using fossil fuels such as coal steam, locomotive boilers heat water, creating steam under pressure which goes to cylinders, moving the pistons connected to the locomotive's wheels. Since the first successful rail steam engine was made in 1804 the technology has improved massively. Some of the earliest steam locomotives produced became famous and known worldwide. Today, the steam locomotive is a piece of history.

Trevithick's Locomotive

British engineer Richard Trevithick, born in 1771, was the first man to successfully build a steam locomotive capable of travelling on rails. In 1804, Trevithick's Penydarren was the first ever successful, full-sized steam train. It was based on Trevithick's experiments creating miniature engines. The engine only made three journeys between the Penydarren Ironworks and the Merthyr-Cardiff Canal in Wales, a distance of nine miles per trip. The seven-ton train, however, tended to break the cast iron rails and was discontinued as being more costly than helpful.

Stephenson's Rocket

In 1829, a trial race was held by the Liverpool and Manchester Railway Company in order to find the fastest and best steam engine to use on its proposed rail link between the cities. The winner of this race was George Stephenson's entry known as Rocket. He built the engine with the help of his son and an engineer friend, Henry Booth. Several innovations to improve power transfer meant that the Rocket was able to crush its opponents and reach speeds of up to 24 miles per hour.

Flying Scotsman

True fans of the age of steam trains would likely know the name Flying Scotsman. The engine was a prolific breaker of records for both speed and endurance. Designed by one of the best known engineers of the time, Sir Herbert Nigel Gresley, the train made her maiden journey on February 22, 1923. The train's first landmark record was a non-stop 392 mile trip from London to Edinburgh, taking just over eight hours. History was made again in 1934 when the train was the first steam-powered engine to reach 100 miles per hour.


A historic day in American railroad history was May 10, 1869. On this date the Union and Central Pacific railroad companies joined their individual sets of tracks to make the first transcontinental railroad in the U.S. The steam engine Jupiter was at this event, having brought Central Pacific's president Leland Stanford to the Golden Spike Ceremony. Jupiter was not even meant to be the train at the event but an accident involving its sister engine Antelope meant that she was a last minute replacement.

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