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Georgian Era Iron Horses: The Advent of the Steam Locomotive

Stephenson's Rocket 1829, the winner of the Rainhill Trials.The Kennet and Avon canal system (built between 1794-1810) winds its picturesque way through Bath and would, no doubt, have been an object of interest to Jane Austen, as it was built during her time there. Intended to connect these two great rivers with the open sea, it was built to provide rapid transportation between Bristol, Bath, and eventually, London.

Start of Kennet and Avon Canal, in Bath.

Start of Kennet and Avon Canal, in Bath.

Proposed as early as the 17th century, it was built just a little too late and was outdated almost before it was instituted. The opening of the Great Western Railroad in 1841 effectively connected these large cities in a faster, more economical way than could be had by boat. The age of steam (as well as the rest of the Industrial Revolution) was well on its way.

Experiments in steam powered locomotion were begun as early as the 1780’s, though in fact, the earliest railways employed horses to draw carts along railway tracks.

As the development of steam engines progressed through the 18th century, various attempts were made to apply them to road and railway use. In 1784, William Murdoch, a Scottish inventor, built a prototype steam road locomotive. An early working model of a steam rail locomotive was designed and constructed by steamboat pioneer John Fitch in the US probably during the 1780s or 1790s. His steam locomotive used interior bladed wheels guided by rails or tracks. The model still exists at the Ohio Historical Society Museum in Columbus.

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