| November/December 1979

  • # Picture 01

  • High-pressure engine and boiler
    Trevithick's high-pressure engine and boiler.

  • # Picture 01
  • High-pressure engine and boiler

Trevithick called this engine 'Catch me who can.' It ran on a circular track railway in London in 1808. The drawing is on a ticket, for those who came to look or dared to take a ride.

Anyone interested in steam will be fascinated by the story of Richard Trevithick, Englishman who invented the high-pressure engine and the first railway locomotive.

Trevithick was born in 1771, before the American Revolution, and died in 1833. An erratic genius of immense physical strength, he made his first models of high-pressure engines in 1797, one stationary and one a little locomotive.

Steam exhausting from the cylinder went straight into the atmosphere. There was no condenser, and by this means Trevithick avoided a patent which had been issued earlier to James Watt.

In 1801, Trevithick built the first full-sized road locomotive in Britain. In a test on Christmas Eve, it successfully carried men uphill. A few days later, however, it was taken off the road because of a mishap, and placed under a shed. The driver and crew repaired to a nearby inn for food and comfort. They had such a good time they forgot about the engine. The water boiled away, the iron became red hot, and the engine and the shelter both burned.

Trevithick went on to invent the Cornish boiler. He traveled to South America and fought for Simon Bolivar, the liberator, for whom he invented a carbine.


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