Richard Trevithick and His Invention

Richard Trevithick Dampfwagen

History train industry can’t be told without describing interesting life of Richard Trevithick, inventor who pioneered early steam engines and laid foundation for building all the future railway systems that are used today. His ingenuity and ability to solve problems no matter how impossible they seemed never made him into a rich man, but his undeniable technical advances enabled him to become part of history that will always remain remembered.

Richard Trevithick was born in 1771, in the coal lands of Carn Brea between Camborne and Redruth in Cornwall. Surrounded by mines, and educated from young days to work with his father on water pump engines, he soon formulated the vision of improving efficiency of mining and transporting precious coal that was powering Britain’s vast industry. To make such change, he needed to make radical alteration of original steam engine designs that were made by famous James Watt in 1770s and adapt it to power locomotive that was moving. Such notions were immediately dismissed by his peers in the technical community around Cornwall, but he did not give up. After finding financial support from Samuel Homfray in first few years of 1800s, Trevithick finally had the money to build the machine of his dreams and change the way coal industry worked forever. After using horses to pull carts of coal from the mines and over surface railways for several hundred years, it was not strange to see that majority of mine owners and technicians who supported this kind of coal transport looked negatively on appearance of unreliable, big, inefficient and slow steam engines.

To prove his point, Richard Trevithick made a bet with his biggest rival ironmaster Richard Crashay. With 500 guineas on the line (small fortune in those days), Richard had to prove that his steam locomotive could successfully pull 10 tons of iron over along the 15 kilometer line of surface railways between towns of Penydarren and Abercynon. On the faithful day of 21 February 1804, Richard’s locomotive under the name of "Penydarren" successfully made her trip over the time of four hours and five minutes, carrying around 25 tons of iron, equipment and 70 people who rode the train.

Secret of his steam engine design was in pressure. By using highly pressurized steam, he was able to harness more power and enable the locomotive to be more productive and efficient. This design later on become the basis of all steam locomotives that would spread out and enable expansion of industry and European civilization across all four corners of the world.

Sadly, successful steam locomotive demonstration was did not pushed Richard Trevithick to continue working in this field. He abandoned work on future designs of steam trains, and focused his life on building stationary steam pump engines for the local mines. This decision enabled other inventors, such as George Stephenson to lead the way in steam engine innovation.

Richard Trevithick died as a poor man in Dartford, Kent, little over 29 years after his steam train presentation.