On this day in 1829 the Rainhill Locomotive Trials began.
The Rainhill Trials were an important competition in the early days of steam locomotive railways, run in October 1829 for the nearly completed Liverpool and Manchester Railway.
For the first time in the history of the world mechanical machines powered by steam were tested to see if they could perform sufficiently well to be relied upon to provide the motive power on a road of iron rails
Until the Rainhill Trials locomotives had been slow lumbering machines confined to industrial usage with occasional passenger traffic in vehicles pulled by horses on those tracks. After the Rainhill Locomotive Trials a new Age dawned of high speed steam locomotive-hauled transport between 2 towns, the like of which had never been seen before.
Five engines competed, running back and forth along a mile length of level track at Rainhill. Stephenson’s Rocket was the only locomotive to complete the trials, and was declared the winner. The Stephensons were accordingly given the contract to produce locomotives for the railway.
For Rocket, her grand prize for winning turned out to be a few years service on the Liverpool and Manchester Railway before being sold to work as a freight engine. Having been build as a prototype the production models made soon after were more refined. But she has already secured her place in history: the basic design was ground-breaking and appeared in all subsequent steam locomotive designs.
In 1862 Rocket was donated to the Patent Office Museum and is now on display at the Science Museum in London. A working replica can be found at the National Railway Museum in York and regularly takes price of place round their turntable or by hauling steam rides during the school holidays.
Main photo – Rainhill Trials in the Illustrated London News