WHILE Mr. Blackett was building locomotives and experimenting with them, George Stephenson, then enjoying a high reputation for his ingenuity and skill as a machinist, was deliberating in his mind on the possibility of locomotives being made and improved so as eventually to supersede the use of horse-power upon tram-roads; but the want of means, and the difficulty of obtaining skillful mechanics at that early day to do the requisite work, retarded him in his long cherished idea of making a machine that would answer effectually the purpose for which the locomotive Eras intended. True it was that Blankensop's engine, built in 1813, had been in use upon the tram-way at Wylam, and improvements were subsequently made so that a machine had been constructed and run upon the tramway between Kenton and Cox Lodge, which was enabled to-draw after it sixteen loaded cars, of about seventy tons, at the rate of three miles an hour. Yet this engines and others like it, were far from being perfect, or adapted to the purpose for which they were intended, being clumsy, cumbrous, and awkward, in all their movements. Mr. Stephenson saw one of these at work, and when asked by one of his companions what he thought of it, he replied that he " could make a better one than that;" and, to accomplish this, he devoted his whole mind and energies, the result of which we will show hereafter.
It will not, we trust, be deemed out of place to devote a small space in our pages to give, as briefly as possible, some of the early history of this afterward most distinguished engineer and machinist, who may be justly looked upon as the father of the locomotive system in England, now so successful and essential to its commerce and manufactures. His history may tend to impress upon the mind of any youthful reader and mechanic who may be now, as he once was, a poor boy, how a young man, by industry and perseverance in a good cause, may ultimately build up for himself a position which would lead eventually to eminence and fame
GEORGE STEPHENSON was born on June 9, 1781, in a small colliery village called Wylam, on the north bank of the river Tyne. The tram road between Newcastle and Carlisle runs along the opposite bank of the river from the coal-pits to the shipping-point. Robert Stephenson, the father of George, was a poor, hard working man, and supported his family entirely from his own wages of less at first than, but afterward raised to, twelve shillings a week.
The wagons loaded with coal passed by Wylam several times a day. These wagons were drawn by horses; for locomotives had not been dreamed of by the most visionary of that early period. George's first wages were two pence per day, to herd some cows owned by a neighbor which were allowed to feed along the road; to watch and keep them off the tram-road, and out of the way of the coal- wagons; also, to close the gates after the day's work of the wagons was over.
The old mine being worked out, the Stephenson family removed to the new opening at Dudley Burn, where Robert, the father, worked as fireman. George's first work about these mines was at what is known as a picker. His duty was to clean the coal of stone, slate, and other impurities, at wages advanced to sixpence per day, and, after promotion, raised to eighteen-pence per day.
After several removals to new openings, as the coal would be worked out in the old, George, who had always lived at home, and was now about fifteen years of age, found himself at the new opening, at Folly's Close, where he was promoted to the position of fireman, at the opening called "Mid Mill Winnin." There he remained two years, and was then again removed to a new pit near Throckly Bridge, where he worked, and his wages were raised to twelve shillings per week. He next worked at a new opening called Water Row, where a pumping machine was erected, and George, who was then seventeen years of age, was placed in charge as plugman and engineer, while his father worked under him as the fireman. At that time he never suffered an Opportunity to pass without improving himself in the knowledge of his engine. When not at work, and while others, employed in and about the mines, would be spending their time and earnings in drinking and idle sports, George employed himself in taking to pieces his engine, to possess himself of knowledge and of every peculiarity about it. By these means he became thoroughly acquainted with his engine, and, if at any time it got wrong, he was able to adjust and even repair it, without calling in the aid of the chief engineer of the colliery. At this time (for want of an opportunity), George Stephenson, now entering upon the very thresh. old of manhood, could not read, nor did he even know his letters. The first rudiments of his education were derived from one Robert Cowen, who had a night school in the village of Wallbottle; with him he took lessons in spelling and reading, three nights in the week, paying three pence per week for his tuition. Notwithstanding these obstacles in his way, George labored, studied, and persevered, and at eighteen he was able to write his own name.
In 1799 he attended another night school, at Newburn. His teacher was one Andrew Robinson, from whom he learned his arithmetic. During his leisure hours he employed himself in working out the sums set him by Robinson, and in the evening handed in his slate to the master for examination and a fresh supply of sums for his study. George's wages now amounted to £1 los. 6d. to t2, per fortnight. To this he added his earnings for shoe-mending and shoe-making, which he had taken up.
In 1804 he walked on foot to Scotland, to take charge of one of Bolton & Watt's engines. He returned, after a year's absence, to Killingworth, on foot, as he had gone, and was soon at work as brakeman at the lifting engine on the West Moore pit.
In 1807 George Stephenson meditated upon emigrating to America; but found himself too poor to pay his passage, and was compelled to abandon the project. To his earnings then he added the repairing of clocks and watches, and the cutting out of clothes for the wives of the workmen to make up. Thus did this energetic and untiring man persevere and labor for advancement in knowledge, until he was promoted as head engineer or plugman, as the engineer was called, at the colliery.