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British Industrial History

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Locomotive: Blucher

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Blucher 1814

The first steam locomotive built by George Stephenson

In 1813, hearing about the success of William Hedley and Timothy Hackworth with their Puffing Billy at Wylam Colliery, George Stephenson persuaded Nicholas Wood, his own colliery manager at Killingworth Colliery, to let him try his hand at building a railway engine. The result, the following year, was the less-than-impressive Blucher.

The engine was built in the workshops at the West Moor colliery, the leading mechanic being John Thirlwall, the colliery blacksmith.

(In 1902, it was published in The Engineer that the first locomotive built by George Stephenson in 1814 was called 'My Lord' after Lord Ravensworth). [1]

The engine had vertical cylinders of 8ins diameter and 24ins stroke. The boiler was cylindrical at 34ins in diameter and 8ft long with a single flue tube. The engine conveyed a load of eight wagons of coal weighing 30 tons up a gradient of 1 in 450 at four miles per hour.

The Blucher was slow and unreliable on the colliery's wooden tram road, but its two vertical cylinders set into the boiler allowed it to pull 30 tons up a gradient at four mph.

More importantly, Stephenson's creation avoided the use of cog and rack pinions - it was the first successful flanged-wheel locomotive and, like Hedley's machine, it relied on adhesion between wheel and track.

Despite its shortcomings, Blucher helped to create Stephenson's reputation. He improved the design the following year by making the connecting rods drive the wheels directly, coupling each pair of wheels together by a chain.

Over the next five years he built 16 more locomotives at Killingworth, some for the colliery and some for the Duke of Portland's wagonway between Kilmarnock and Troon

See Also

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Sources of Information

  • [1] Cotton Times
  • A Manual of Locomotive Engineering by William Frank Pettigrew. Published in 1901