One Hundred and Ninety Years Ago Today

We entered the age of the steam locomotive when the Stockton and Darlington Railway is ceremonially opened in North East England as the world’s first public railway to use steam locomotives. One of the first uses of this railway system, and the steam locomotives that powered it, was the movement of coal to ships, and the age of steam-powered logistics began.

Soon after their introduction, steam locomotives dominated the world of railway transport until the middle of the 20th century (when they were gradually superseded by electric and diesel locomotives). However, they dominated the railways for well over 100 years (as evidence by Walter Lucas’ 1981 collector’s edition release of 100 Years of Steam Locomotives as they retained their dominance in the US until the 1950s and in the UK until the 1960s). This is not surprising considering that, near the end of their reign, they were capable of producing over 6,000 horsepower (as the Union Pacific Challenger could in 1936) and even the smaller locomotives at the time were capable of producing over 3,600 HorsePower (including the 4-8-4 Northern Class Locomotive #3101 built in 1928 by the Canadian Pacific Railway in Montreal, see this silent film).

And these steam engines changed the world. Steam power, first widely used in steam locomotives, not only transported the goods created during the industrial revolution, it drove the industrial revolution. It powered the factories, the ships, and the locomotives. And on land, nothing was more powerful, or faster, than the locomotives for transport.