George Stephenson

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George Stephenson

George Stephenson (June 9, 1781August 12, 1848) was an English civil engineer and mechanical engineer who built the first public railway line in the world to use steam locomotives.


  • I observe you have thought proper to insert the last number of the Philosophical Magazine your opinion that my attempts at the safety tubes and apertures were borrowed from what I have heard of Sir Humphrey Davy's researches. The principles upon which a safety lamp might be constructed I stated to several persons long before Sir Humphrey Davy came into this part of the country. The plan of such a lamp was seen by several and the lamp itself was in the hands of the manufacturers during the time he was here.
    • Letter published in The Philosophical Magazine (1817-03-13)
  • I am glad to learn that the Parliament Bill has been passed for the Darlington Railway. I am much obliged by the favourable sentiments you express towards me, and shall be happy if I can be of service in carrying into execution your plans.
  • To tell you the truth although it would put £500 in my pockets to specify my own patent rails, I cannot do so after the experience I have had.
    • Letter to the directors of the Stockton & Darlington Railway in 1821 after seeing the rails being made by John Birkinshaw.
  • The rage for railroads is so great that many will be laid in parts where they will not pay.
    • Letter to Joseph Sandars (December 1824)
  • I was threatened to be ducked in the pond if I proceeded, and of course we had a great deal of the survey to take by stealth at the time when the persons were at dinner; we would not get it by night, for we were watched day and night and guns were discharged over the ground belonging to Captain Bradshaw to prevent us. I can state further, I was twice turned off the ground myself by his men; and they said if I did not go instantly they would carry me off to Worsley.
    • Statement during Liverpool and Manchester Railway Bill Parliamentary Hearings (1825-04-25)
  • I got leave to go from Killingworth to lay down a railway at Hetton, and next to Darlington, and after that I went to Liverpool to plan the line to Manchester. I there pledged myself to attain a speed of ten miles an hour. I said I had no doubt the engine would go much faster, but we had better be moderate at the beginning. The directors said I was quite right, for if when they came to Parliament I talked of going at a greater rate than ten miles an hour, I would put a cross on the concern. It was not an easy task for me to keep engines down to ten miles an hour, but it must be done, and did my best. I had to place myself in the most unpleasant of all situations, the witness-box of a Parliamentary Committee. Someone inquired if I was a foreigner, and another hinted that I was mad. Many became alarmed at this "Watt run wild," and in order to prevent these mad steam engines running beyond an old horse trot, they got two eminent engineers to act as Lunacy Commissioners. These gentlemen proved it was practically and commercially inexpedient. I put up with insult and rebuff, and went on with my plans, determined not to be put down. Improvements were made every day, and to-day a train has brought me from London in the morning and enabled me to take my place in this room.
    • speaking at the opening of the Newcastle & Darlington Railway (1844), quoted in Engines and men- the history of the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen, John R. Raynes (1921)

About George Stephenson[edit]


  • This railway is the most absurd scheme that ever entered into the head of a man to conceive. Mr. Stephenson never had a plan — I do not believe he is capable of making one. He is either ignorant or something else which I will not mention. His is a mind perpetually fluctuating between opposite difficulties; he neither knows whether he is to make bridges over roads or rivers, or of one size or another; or to make embankments, or cuttings, or inclined planes, or in what way the thing is to be carried into effect. When you put a question to him upon a difficult point, he resorts to two or three hypothesis, and never comes to a decided conclusion. Is Mr. Stephenson to be the person upon whose faith this Committee is to pass this Bill involving property to the extent of £400,000/£500,000 when he is so ignorant of his profession as to propose to build a bridge not sufficient to carry off the flood water of the river or to permit any of the vessels to pass which of necessity must pass under it.
    • Edward Hall Alderson, counsel employed in opposition to the proposed Liverpool & Manchester Railway. On 25th April, 1825, George Stephenson gave evidence to the House of Commons committee looking into the proposed railway.
  • It will hereafter be scarcely believed that an invention so eminently scientific, and which could never have been derived but from the sterling treasury of science, should have been claimed on behalf of an engine-wright of Killingworth, of the name of Stephenson — a person not even possessing a knowledge of the elements of chemistry.
    • Dr. Paris, Life of Sir Humphry Davy (1831)
  • Left home in company with John Dixon to attend the internment of George Stephenson at Chesterfield. I fear he died an unbeliever. When I reflect on my first acquaintance with him and the resulting consequences my mind seems lost in doubt as to the beneficial results — that humanity has been benefited in the diminished use of horses and by the lessened cruelty to them, that much ease, safety, speed, and lessened expense in travelling is obtained, but as to the results and effects of all that railways had led my dear family into, being in any sense beneficial is uncertain.
  • George Stephenson told me as a young man that railways will supersede almost all other methods of conveyance in this country — when mail-coaches will go by railway, and railroads will become the great highway for the king and all his subjects. I know there are great and almost insurmountable difficulties to be encountered; but what I have said will come to pass as sure as you live.
    • John Dixon, quoted by Samuel Smiles, Life of George Stephenson (1875)

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