Ask anyone whom they think built the first railway locomotive and they will probably say George Stephenson. But, in fact, the railway locomotives are invented by Richard Trevithick and first demonstrated in February 1804.

Richard Trevithick (England) was born in the heart of the Cornish tin-mining area. His father was a mine manager, and Trevithick duly become a mining engineer; devoting his talents to the improvement of the steam engine. At the time James Watt (Scotland, known as the father of steam) had a virtual monopoly on stationery steam engines, but Trevithick demonstrated that steam could be used at far greater pressures than Watt had envisaged, a considerable advance in steam technology that led directly to the development of steam locomotives.

Toward the end of the 18th century Trevithick invented the Cornish engine, a double-acting, high pressure engine that worked by cutting off steam early in each stroke to make use of the expansion of the high-pressure steam. in 1801 he produced the first successful steam carriage for use on the road, but the poor state of the roads meant the steam carriages did not fulfil their potential and he did not develop idea further. Railways, with their iron tracks, offered a better opportunity for steam power, and in 1804 Trevithick built the world’s first railway locomotive by mounting one of his stationery steam engines on the chassis of a railway wagon. He made several demonstrations in February 1804, during which his locomotive successfully hauled 10 tons of freight and a number of passengers along the 9 1/2 mile Pen-y-Darren ironworks railway in Wales.

Trevithick’s locomotive Catch Me Who Can was set up as a demonstration on a circular track near Euston, London, in 1808; a broken rail ended this venture, and Trevithick turned his attention elsewhere, leaving it to others, including George Stephenson (England), to develop and commercialize the railways. Despite Trevithick’s inventive mind, he failed to capitalize on his ideas, eventually losing all his wealth in silver-mining venture in Peru. He was bought a ticket home by George Stephenson’s son Robert, and died penniless in England in 1833.

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