The ‘Rocket' Locomotive - Atlas Obscura

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The ‘Rocket' Locomotive

Locomotion Museum

This innovative steam machine was no doubt the most famous of the pioneer locomotives.  


While it is true that the train built by George Stephenson and his son Robert in 1829 was not the first steam locomotive, it was the most advanced at the time, and the model that inspired all the other locomotives over the following 150 years. 

Dubbed the “Rocket,” the locomotive became famous, especially after winning the Rainhill Trials design competition held by the Liverpool & Manchester Railway. It was recognized for its tall chimney at the front, cylindrical boiler in the middle, and separate firebox at the back of the engine. All these innovations came to be essential elements that were preserved until the end of the era of steam. 

Stephenson called his locomotive the Rocket because of a biased article in a regional newspaper that claimed people would rather go to the Moon in a rocket than ride in such an extravagant vehicle as a steam-powered train. Reference was made to the frequent serious accidents with steam machines.

They were partly right. At the ceremony on the opening day of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway in 1830—a momentous event that attracted prominent guests like the British Prime Minister and Duke of Wellington—a member of parliament was hit and killed by the Rocket locomotive.

Nevertheless, the engine enjoyed many years of service. The machine is still preserved at the National Railway Museum in York. As of March 2023, the Rocket has been relocated to the Locomotion Museum in Shildon while the York Railway Museum is under renovation.

Know Before You Go

Since 2023, the rocket has been based at the Locomotion Museum in Shildon.

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