Posted By Robert. Stephenson

This photograph, taken from The Rainhill Story, depicts Puffing Billy, the oldest surviving steam locomotive in the world. It was built in 1813-14 for Christopher Blackett, the owner of the Wylam Colliery, by William Hedley, Jonathan Forster and Timothy Hackworth (who would later build the Sans Pareil). Puffing Billy was the world’s first commercial adhesion steam locomotive (that is, where power is achieved by driving the wheels to create friction between the wheels and the rails), and was used to pull coal trucks from the Colliery to the docks at Lemington-on-Tyne, Northumberland. Puffing Billy was one of a number of locomotives built by Hedley for this purpose to replace horses, and one of two prototypes for this design, along with Wylam Dilly. Puffing Billy displayed a number of innovations that would be followed by subsequent locomotives: it had two vertical cylinders outside the boiler, the piston rods were extended upwards to pivoting beams, which were connected by rods to a crankshaft beneath the frames, from which gears drove and coupled the wheels, improving traction. But at eight tons, it was too heavy for cast-iron rails, frequently breaking them. However, this problem was addressed when the locomotive was redesigned with four axles, thus spreading the weight more evenly. Puffing Billy was rebuilt with four wheels (rather than the original eight) after edge rails tracks were introduced around 1830. It could go no faster than five miles per hour. Despite these limitations, it influenced a local engineer named George Stephenson, and its success led to other collieries in the North East using steam locomotives. The Wylam Colliery locomotives were commissioned because horses had become expensive to purchase due to the Napoleonic Wars, and remained in use until June 1862. In the same year, the Colliery loaned and in 1864 sold Puffing Billy to the Patent Office Museum, now the Science Museum, where it remains to this day: Wylam Dilly is displayed in the Royal Museum in Edinburgh. In 2006, a replica of Puffing Billy was steamed for the first time at the Beamish Museum in County Durham

Puffing Billy

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