George Stephenson was an English civil and mechanical engineer best known for building the first steam locomotive railway line.
- Map the following (you’ll find mapping resources below):
- Learn more about the history of coal mining in England at UKCoal.com.
- View a painting called Men leaving a pit prior to The Great War by Gerald Palmer.
- Describe what a mining engineer did.
- Re-familiarize yourself with the Watt and Boulton engine at the Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences.
- View a picture of the Newcomen engine that injured Stephenson’s father.
- View the Killingsworth High Pit mine.
- Describe the relationship between George Stephenson and his son Robert.
- Create an illustration of the three parts of a railway as mentioned on page 58.
- View a photo of a horse-drawn tramway at Swannington-Heritage.co.uk (scroll down).
- Explain Stephenson’s idea for how a locomotive would be used.
- Learn more about Richard Trevithick at Cornwall-Calling.co.uk
- View a photo of Blenkinsop’s rack locomotive.
- View a photo of Puffing Billy.
- View a photo of the Blucher.
- Narrate how the steam blast or forced draft that Stephenson invented works.
- Explain the essential points that made Stephenson’s locomotive successful (see pg. 62).
- Explain the phrase “Private Risk is the Public’s Gain” that was on the banner at the head of the procession for the opening of the Stockton and Darlington Railroad.
- Make a list of the early objections to the railroad.
- View a painting of a railway over Chat Moss at EdgehillStation.co.uk (click to enlarge).
- View an illustration of the Rocket.
- List the various jobs and positions Stephenson held. [Cow herd, farmer, picker in the mine, gin horse driver, assistant fireman, mining engineer, brakeman, making and mending shoes, cotton factory superintendent, engine “doctor,” clock and watch mender, engine wright.]
- Make a character trading card using this interactive at ReadWriteThink.org with the character traits of George Stephenson that are mentioned in the book as having helped him to succeed. [Set goals, planned ahead, studied, learned by making models, bettered himself by learning those skills he didn’t have (going to night school to learn to read), perseverance, looked for ways to improve things, determination in the face of critics.]
- Create a timeline of Stephenson’s life.
- More about George Stephenson and the locomotive from the Book of Knowledge:
The first steam railway ran at the bottom of a coal mine. It was built by George Stephenson.
George was born in 1781, in the little English village of Wylam, near Newcastle-on-Tyne. He was one of six children in a poor family. His father worked in the mines and made very little money, so that George was not sent to school. When he was still a child he was put to work, and before long was given the job of tending one of Watt’s engines which pumped water out of a mine. George was fascinated by the engine and wanted to learn all about it. But he had no one to teach him, and no books; and even if he had had books, he could not read. Not until he was a grown man did he learn how to read and write; but he came to know a great deal about the use of steam for power by working with collier engines….
Stephenson went on working and studying and gradually getting better jobs, always with engines. In 1808 he went to the Killingworth mine where he showed such skill that he was placed in charge of all the machinery. Now he determined to build an engine to draw the loaded cars from where the coal was dug to the elevator shaft. This he did….
He went on building engines for coal mines until 1822, when he started building a railway which would carry passengers as well as goods. The line running from Stockton to Darlington, was opened on September 27, 1825. Stephenson himself drove the engine, which drew thirty-four small cars carrying coal and flour and a number of passengers. A man on horseback rode in front of the train, waving a flag. He thought that he would be able to lead it all the way, that the train would never go fast enough to pass him. But presently George made a signal to him to get out of the way, and he set the train going at thirty miles an hour, although the weight which the little engine drew was nearly nine tons.
It was a happy moment for Stephenson when the train reached Darlington without accident. The train was unloaded, then started back, carrying only passengers. When Stockton was reached, it was found that about 600 people were riding in or hanging on to the trucks of the little train.
That was the first time in the history of the world that a steam engine had drawn a train carrying passengers over a railway.
“The Wonder of a Train,” The Book of Knowledge
The Steam Locomotive: A Unit Study
You’ll find a variety of additional resources on George Stephenson and the steam locomotive not included below in our unit study.
Biography at RobinsonLibrary.com.
Great timeline at GracesGuide.co.uk.
Inside a Steam Locomotive
Great download from the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania that explains how a steam engine works.
Important events in the development of railroad travel at TrainHistory.net.
Famous People — George Stephenson
Interactive from the BBC with photos, fun facts, a quiz, and a game where you build a locomotive to enter the Rainhill race.
Use this interactive at ReadWriteThink.org to create a timeline showing the key events in George Stephenson’s life as mentioned above.
Puffing Billy and the Prize Rocket by Helen Cross Knight
Wonderful public domain story about the Stephensons and the locomotive. Puffing Billy should really be termed Billy, which was the Stephensons’ Killingworth train.
George Stephenson: The Locomotive and the Railway by John F. Layson
Accessible public domain work for older students.
Chapter from Great Englishmen by M.B. Synge at The Baldwin Project.
Unit Studies & Lesson Plans
The Steam Locomotive: A Unit Study
Background information, suggestions, animations, foldables, books, train units, printables, and more in our unit study!
Printables & Notebooking Pages
Map of Europe
At PAT for locating England.
United Kingdom Map
At PAT for locating Wylam and Killingworth.
George Stephenson & the Locomotive Notebooking Pages
Simple pages for copywork, narrations, or wrapping up.